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Software verdict

We asked three experts what they thought of two packages launched this week

Cash Crescent

A numeracy package for people who need to work up their maths skills. A group of characters, all with money worries, live in Cash Crescent. By helping solve their worries, you improve you own financial skills Publisher: UfIlearndirect

"This took a little bit of working out. You needed to work your way through the programme and, it wasn't always obvious what you had to do to move on.

If you weren't familiar with IT, you could struggle.

"Some of the examples required a degree of mental arithmetic that some of the users may not have. People can probably relate to case study examples, but some of them were quite sophisticated.

"One example required understanding about borrowing over different periods of time, at different interest rates. In a teaching situation these would be explained. The UfI material does try to relate its examples into everyday experience.

"Very few of the things that you do as an adult require anything more than the basic four rules of number. And the school curriculum then tries to extend that into all sorts of areas that have little practical application in people's lives.

"There is a case to be made for better financial understanding. But it isn't wholly a maths question.

"On the endowments issue, the underlying problem wasn't primarily due to a poor understanding of the arithmetic, but to an understanding of the risks and that's a skill that requires more than numeracy."

What motivates adults to improve their skills?

"The motivation comes when people are confronted with their inadequate understanding. Parents who want to read to their children for example.

"But in the field of numeracy it's easier to hide our weaknesses - checkout tills, calculators that do all the work for you. The assumption is that 'I don't need these skills'.

"The real recognition that someone needs some improvement in their literacy and numeracy skills is more likely to happen in a work context, which is where we are more likely to succeed in getting people to confront their limitations."

John Brennan

The writer is chief executive of the Association of Colleges. Educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Bury St Edmunds, and the University of Sussex, he graduated with a DPhil in quantum physics in 1968, so he ought to be able to do the sums.

Make or Break

An online course with a sharp focus on number power for wannabe entrepreneurs. Covers starting, then developing a business Publisher: UfIlearndirect

"Overall I liked it. This was a remarkably good introduction to the whole challenge of starting up a business. A very easy format, this would not be enough on its own, but as an introduction and a checklist it would be useful. Someone setting up a small business would be able to refer to it as they were developing their plans. It's firmly steeped in the real world."

Christopher Duff

The writer is chief executive of the Sector Skills Development Agency.

Launched in April 2002, the agency is responsible for the development of the network of Sector Skills Councils for the United Kingdom.

"A huge number of business start-ups fail because of the lack of planning skills. I thought it well paced, interesting with quite rich exercises.

"Maybe not quite enough exploring your own experience before beginning the five scenarios. It required a fair amount of concentration. I found it very difficult to do it at work - so I took it home."

Alan Tuckett The writer is chief executive of Niace

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