THE government agency which promotes basic reading and maths has turned to cable TV to get its message over, because it believes that cable - associated with sport and game shows - is watched by the adults who need most help.
The Basic Skills Agency is already working with the BBC and Channel 4 on a new generation of interactive education programmes, which use footage from popular TV shows.
But it has also approached cable companies because it believes that their programmes have a better chance of reaching audiences with poor literacy and number skills than up-market stations like BBC Knowledge - which, at present, have a low take-up.
Figures from the BSA suggest that there are seven million adults whose basic skills are poor enough to limit their job prospects and their social life. Last week it published a list of tasks, such as finding a product in a supermarket or recognising the title of a video, that it regarded as essential for conducting modern life.
The agency says that digital television can offer programmes that will lead viewers through self-help programmes alongside internet access and armchair banking.
The programmes could also be piped into prisons as part of a Government plan to give every cell its own television. Educational channels would be available after terrestrial channels have been switched off.
Officials from the BSA are talking to the Cable Association, which represents the firms that have spent the past decade installing telecommunications lines beneath pavements across the country.
Jim Pateman, deputy director of the BSA, said the agency was looking to the future.
"We know not many people have digital television at the moment, but it's selling much faster to our target audience than personal computers. It has much more impact in the social classes we need to reach."
Despite the high number of British people with poor basic skills only 250,000 are taking courses or other programmes to tackle the problem. The agency believes the numbers who can be enticed onto courses are limited.
"A lot of people will choose not to go on basic skills courses," Mr Pateman said. "We have to do something to reach them in the home."
The material could be tied into the launch of Maths Year 2000 next May. The Government is looking for companies to sponsor initiatives in the year as it did for the National Year of Reading.
Programmes could be shown on local cable channels, or educational channels.
They would work in a similar way to CD-Roms, with video and sound leading the user through a series of steps.
One pilot used footage, Channel 4's snowboarding programme Board Stupid, with users given the task of following instructions to get down the mountain without falling into a crevasse.
The programmes could also be a route to taking the new computerised basic skills test which is being developed by the BSA and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. A consultation document was issued last week.