A comprehensive education has become the key to a successful future. However, male resistance to education, as established by recent studies, is an increasing problem which is becoming progressively more apparent.
It has been observed that few men take advantage of learning opportunities unless these are directly related to the attainment and development of professional skills - less than half the amount of their female counterparts.
(InfoNet - Martin Erhardt / Erich Krichbaum / Petra Herre) Adult education experts from six European counties have analysed this issue within the context of a "learning partnership", "MENPART" (Men and non-formal education - participation and learning of social skills). The project´s participants included specialists from Denmark, Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Austria.
Within the context of their respective countries, they attempted to shed light on what motivates men to participate in advanced voluntary self-education outside their various areas of professional expertise, or what deters them from doing so. They discovered a great deal of similarities in the process, but their analysis also highlighted the differences, which emerged particularly strongly in relation to the various ways of thinking.
The project´s contextual basis was the low level of participation by men as learners in the field of adult education. The project focussed both on the spheres of social education and on cultural, religious and political education.
The project´s most significant conclusion was that "after embarking on their professional lives, men rapidly become extremely passive as regards learning per se." Kai Kiviranta, social scientist and project participant, described the situation in Finland in this way. Men only educate themselves and improve their skills as far as this proves beneficial to their profession and their career. They appear to have no interest in learning for purposes of personal enhancement and development. At present, 76% of participants in adult education in Finland are women, with male attendance bringing up the rear at a mere 24%. The situation is similar in Ireland, Austria, Denmark and Germany. Social scientist Peter Döge confirmed that attendance at Germany´s adult education centres virtually replicates the situation in Finland, with 74% female participants and only 24% male attendees. And male figures plummet to a mere 17% when it comes to health-related courses. However, this is compensated by the gender ratio in the case of courses which impart accredited foundation knowledge, with each gender scoring 50%.
One of the reasons for this is the often negative relationship with learning which men have developed over the course of their lives. Many associate learning with school and this, in turn, with stress, swotting, subordination, bad marks, punishments and fear of failure. The majority of men do not derive a great amount of fun and enjoyment from personal further education, and nor do they approach it with any degree of playful effortlessness or in a relaxed manner. In the light of an educational background which focussed firmly on functional skills, it is unsurprising that men are only motivated to improve their education in areas which appear necessary and useful, e.g. in a professional context. Educationalist Michael May from the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden evaluated the male attitude to education as follows: "If I am convinced that the fact that I am unable to learn is due to my genes, than this means that I don´t have to learn at all".
This exclusively male devotion to professional further training and continuing education as the only profitable and essential form of education is supported by a working environment which continues to struggle to integrate contemporary challenges such as "creating a work / life balance", "co-operative, professional behaviour in the work place" and "gender mainstreaming" as structural elements within the employment system and to reinforce these as its new mission statement.
Male education can thus be described as political education lobbying for changes in adult education.
One of the main reasons for the low levels of male participation is due to the feminisation of education. Educational institutions such as Germany´s adult education centres (Volkshochschulen) have developed a strongly female environment and are predominantly run by women. There, women and their lives and realities form the chief target group, this reflected in the topics and course formats on offer. However, successful male education must also include real-life male contexts and their needs, addressing issues such as "time management, "coping with stress", "creating a work / life balance", and providing cooking courses, educational trips, outdoor hikes or seminars dealing with the father / child relationship.
Creative solutions and praise for small steps forward
The seminar arrangement and course format are also important for the male target group: one of the project´s findings was that men learn in a far more goal-and results-oriented manner and prefer short, compact intensive courses. Other decisive course-related factors are structured discussions, a public space and competitive elements in addition to course accreditation. Too little attention continues to be paid to these specifically male aspects. So-called "soft" topics and learning methods do not attract men as much. Nevertheless, examples of pottery, painting or handicraft courses with male-specific elements such as follow-up exhibitions and prize-giving demonstrate that men do take advantage of courses tailored to their needs. Here, creative ideas, experimental courage and forging new paths are essential.
Advertising is an area fraught with dissension. Marketing strategies, which attract men via status symbols such as cars or naked women, found great support. Others, on the other hand, considered posters, flyers or brochures like these sexist and inappropriate. This clearly demonstrated the differences in the various cultures. And yet, the fact that both sets of beliefs were tolerated highlights the positive nature of the culture of constructive debate within the learning partnership groups.