Mobile initiative is a wise investment

6th April 2007 at 01:00

One of the key purposes of further education is improving the life chances of all, regardless of how challenging the task. Thus it's crucial that we don't shy away from investing in initiatives to persuade disengaged young people to go to their local college, rather than sitting back and simply waiting for them to walk through the door. A recent TES article suggested that such initiatives are a waste of money and resources (FE Focus, March 23). This view is quite simply a travesty.

The statistics on young people's participation in post-16 education make stark reading. Only 75 per cent of this group are currently in education or training, placing us number 20 out of 30 OECD countries. An estimated 150,000 young people are not in any education, training or employment. They are 20 times more likely than their counterparts to commit a crime and the girls are 22 times more likely to become teenage mothers. Furthermore, they are likely to cost taxpayers an extra pound;100,000 each during their lifetime.

If ignored, these people are likely to be condemned to a life of poverty.

At best, they will face a life of low-paid jobs and unemployment, at worst they will fall into the criminal justice system.

It is not in Britain's interest to let this situation prevail. Further education colleges are well placed to change lives. However, getting disengaged youngsters to go to college is not easy. Many come from families with little history of achievement in education or the workplace. They often lack good role models, face discrimination, struggle to find employment and have limited mobility. They feel let down by the system and are suspicious of the very institutions that could help them.

According to Learning and Skills Network research, innovative solutions are required to tackle the problem. A good first step is involving such people in informal learning, which helps improve motivation and aspiration. Mobile telephones are perfect tools to foster an interest in learning. Most youngsters already carry a mobile and are enthusiastic about the technology.

This is what Geoff Elliot and his team are doing at Pembrokeshire College.

They are using technology to reach those who would not otherwise engage in learning, and have won two Beacon awards in recognition of this work.

Thanks to the m-learning programme, 16 people are now in jobs or on courses and a further 35 are still with the programme.

The pound;36,000 of EU money is being wisely invested and the sum pales into insignificance when you consider the amount of taxpayers' money saved each time one young person's life is turned round.

What's the alternative? Ignore them? That would be bad for the individual, bad for the community, bad for the economy and, ultimately, bad for the taxpayer.

John Stone is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Network

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