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Trainers call for learning on tap

Leaders of the training and enterprise councils this week called for books and computer software for adult education to be treated as public utilities like gas and water and supplied directly to the home.

A wide-ranging policy paper from the TEC national council, Developing a Learning Society, sets out to seize the policy high ground and calls for a radical transformation of the education system.

Many would argue that "the current, largely public, suppliers of learning are part of the problem rather than part of the solution to lifelong learning, " the paper says.

"They are insufficiently flexible, responsive or innovative, and are too complacent. Colleges and universities should offer seven-day trading, and continuous round-the-clock access.

"In the future, the current distinctions between public and private sector learning institutions will no longer be justifiable. Any organisation which can demonstrate the required quality and capability, and which is accredited to offer recognised modules or learning qualifications, should be treated equally in terms of access to available public funds."

The TECs have fought a vigorous campaign to secure a role in the regional strategy of the new Government, which is still being shaped for April 1999. The movement has had a chequered history (see page 26) and knows it must work hard to secure a longer term future. The policy paper is a bid for a say in shaping the Government's lifelong learning policies.

It calls for a learning society which, it says, will have been achieved when all people are enabled and are entitled to learn throughout life, culminating in a real change of behaviour. Ready access to books, computers and other resources in the home is essential, it says.

In a learning society 50 per cent of the potential adult workforce should be participating in formal learning each year, say the TECs. Adults should have the chance to attain an NVQ level 3 or its equivalent. This would cost in the region of Pounds 1,500 a year per person and require a total public investment of some Pounds 16.6 billion over time.

"If just 14 to 15 per cent of the Pounds 11 billion of public funding currently allocated to fund higher education each year was to be more equitably re-allocated and targeted to underpin a level 3 entitlement for all adults over a period of 11 years; by the year 2010, the vision of a UK workforce with a minimum of level 3 skill as the norm, could be achieved."

The TECs support a National Record of Achievement in the form of a swipe card with a personal learner identification number, linked into a national learning registry.

New forms of technology, including the Internet, would make learning materials and information accessible from anywhere where there is a telephone: the home, community centres, shopping centres, hotels, libraries and so on. Pubs and cafes could do much to improve people's access to learning facilities.

A national learning database should be created to include information on the expected competences for particular occupational areas, current forecasts of labour market opportunities, sources of guidance, training opportunities and programmes to support personal review and self-marketing.

"Universal access will be a key feature. Swipe-card technology to provide all-hours access via the 'hole in the wall', access via the Internet and distribution by CD-Rom could all be potential vehicles to enable this," the TEC report says.

The council calls for the creation of a strategic partnership body to be created by government to help to change attitudes and culture. What is required is the development of a radical agenda that seeks to tackle not only how individuals, employers and government approach learning, "but how it is consumed, delivered, recognised, funded and valued".

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