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Learning plan gets back to basics

A new strategy to help adults with literacy and numeracy skills has been unveiled, reports James Harrison

A long-term plan to improve the basic skills of 1.5 million adults by 2007 was unveiled this week.

The strategy follows a 12-month review of literacy and numeracy provision in the UK and abroad, including America, Canada and Australia.

This found that over the past 20 years adults with poor basic skills have found it harder to get and keep jobs, according to the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy which developed the strategy.

"These processes may be exacerbated among particular groups and in particular locations.

"People from non-English-speaking backgrounds, adults with learning difficulties and those with disabilities, teenage parents and people living in disadvantaged areas are more prone on average to basic skills problems and the predisposing conditions for social exclusion."

On Tuesday, the NRDC, which was set up in 2002 to help the estimated seven million working adults without basic GCSE qualifications, unveiled the five aims it has set itself to meet by 2007.

They include examining the economic and social consequences of literacy problems, improving collaboration between organisations teaching basic skills to adults, and raising the standards of teaching and learning.

The NRDC says: "Although there is a great deal of research and theory about how people learn, it is largely derived from studying children and school-based learning. In post-16, much less is known in general, and about adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) in particular."

But probably the key challenge is how to boost the interest and motivation of the people the strategy aims to help - people who have already fallen through the education net at least once.

"Not all adults recognise any need to participate in learning," the NRDC says.

"Literacy, numeracy and language are a means to an end in people's lives and most adults with a weaker grasp of them have learned to get by.

"If 1.5m adults are to have significantly improved their literacy and numeracy by 2007, learning needs to become more compelling for people who may currently feel it is 'not for them', or who encounter external barriers.

"The education and training system - the 'supply side' - needs to understand better what motivates or inspires adults of all ages to engage in learning so that they can reshape learning opportunities."

Ivan Lewis, the minister for skills and vocational education, who was at the launch, said the work of the NRDC was central to the Government's aims to improve the literacy, language and numeracy among adults.

He said: "By developing the evidence for how to engage adults in learning these skills and providing guidance on effective strategies for teaching and learning literacy and numeracy, the NRDC will play a key role in equipping individual learners to improve their life chances and ensure teaching and training provision meets their needs."

Ursula Howard, director of the NRDC, said: "The centre brings together research and development activity so that we can engage the practitioners who need sound knowledge and thinking to help learners learn and achieve more.

"The NRDC represents an opportunity to create a better future for adult learners by addressing the real challenges which face people every day of their lives."

The launch of the strategy comes in the wake of an international literacy study. The Literacy Skills For The World Of Tomorrow report, compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Unesco, found girls outperforming boys in reading and literacy in almost all of the 43 countries surveyed.

In the UK, a fifth of females and a third of males do not read for enjoyment, while more than a third of girls and boys read for 30 minutes or less each day.

The UK came eighth overall for reading literacy, below Korea and above Japan.

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