We hear regularly about the need to upskill our workforce, to increase its efficiency and make Britain more competitive across the world, but do we really invest enough in adult education and skills development?
This week at the Adults Learning Mathematics conference (ALM 25) at the UCL Institute of Education, an international group of mathematics researchers and teachers are exchanging ideas on how to motivate adults and support teachers in their endeavours to improve adult learners’ mathematical skills, to help them become more successful.
The conference title is Boundaries and Bridges: adults learning mathematics in a fractured world and a range of creative and inspirational speakers such as Rob Easterway, Professor Chris Budd and TV celebrity Bobby Seagull discuss ways to build bridges and engage various learners from parents to prisoners, through the inspiring use of mathematics in films, space and robots, overcoming such barriers as maths anxiety.
Adult education sector neglected
The adult education sector has been neglected, or at best considered on a piecemeal basis, creating fractures in the world of education.
For example, there are generous bursaries available to train mathematics graduates to become teachers, yet often, due to inadequate funding regimes, the jobs available upon graduation in the further education colleges are often part-time and at rates of pay far lower than the bursaries.
Fantastic online resources have been developed to help contextualise mathematics to different vocational areas, yet most of them cannot be found, as the development has been piecemeal, so not connected.
At the conference, David Walker will also the case of Learndirect. It lost its government support and is now losing all of its experienced staff, a once good quality online-provider when run for the public good and for who many trainers in the workplace relied upon to help with upskilling their workforce, is disappearing. How does this fit in with the government’s stated aim of improving the skills of the workforce?
Bottom of the priority pile
Sadly, provision for adults’ education has always been at the bottom of the government’s funding priorities, and there is no sign that this will change in the future.
David Kaye, chair of ALM says: “These circumstances present many difficulties for us working in adult mathematics and numeracy in the UK, but in ALM we try to build bridges by considering a broader view, taking advantage of the international perspective of our membership and the research it encourages.”
He continues: “Through this, we can recognise that many of the shifts in political policy are not confined to the UK, but more to do with worldwide changes in employment, skills and training.”
One way for the government to address this fragmentation of provision is to include FE and HE in the report on the recent post-18 consultation, putting the adult learners at the centre of policy rather than organisational structures.
David Kaye is the chair of Adults Learning Mathematics