Opinion: Team work will teach 7m adults

DfEE’s ambitious crusade aims to teach all UK adults basic literacy skills –
and HR will be involved, writes Malcolm Wicks MP.

is shocking that up to 7 million adults in England cannot read and write as well
as we expect our 11-year-olds to, and even more have problems with numbers.
Some simply cannot read at all.

cost to the country could be £10bn a year, and I know HR managers will have had
to cope with the many problems caused by poor basic skills.

with low basic skills earn on average £50,000 less over their working lives,
are more likely to have health problems or turn to crime. Our crusade is to see
this change by giving all adults the chance to get the skills they need for the
21st century.

is not something the Government can achieve alone. The DfEE has just published
its strategy Skills for Life. It is designed to ensure that every relevant
organisation, at national and local level, can contribute by working to a
common set of objectives and within a clear national framework.

Government’s target is that 750,000 adults will improve their literacy and
numeracy by 2004. In the longer term we want to make sure that England has one
of the best adult literacy and numeracy rates in the world. Ultimately we want
to eliminate the problem altogether.

government we will spend £1.5bn in the next three years. We will give a lead as
an employer – across Whitehall, and from the Army to the NHS – but this is not
just about government; business has a vital role to play along with voluntary
organisations, community groups and trade unions. No company can afford to
neglect this problem.

Government is investing in training and support for teachers. New national
standards, new materials and a common core leading to a national test will make
sure that the same approach to teaching and learning, based on best practice,
is adopted across the country. To date, too much of what has been provided has
been ineffective at improving literacy and numeracy skills with many not
progressing beyond where they started.

of the main difficulties is reaching the people who need help. We will be
targeting six priority groups. Two of these will be of interest to HR managers
– people out of work and people in low-skilled jobs. Our aim is to improve the
literacy and numeracy of both groups so that they are more employable and can
take advantage of other training and development opportunities. 

Government is planning to provide more than 2 million flexible learning
opportunities over the next three years to meet demand, so that adults can
improve their skills at a time and place to suit their circumstances. 

will be developing online practice tests and learning materials for companies
to use. We know that it can be easier for large companies to offer these
initiatives than small to medium-sized companies and in our pilot areas we will
be looking at ways of supporting them.

idea to be piloted is to provide funding to cover the cost of replacement staff
while employees are on courses. We will also be developing a toolkit for
employers to use in taking action. This is an area we can work together on.

succeed we need coordination. The new Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit will be
based at the DfEE to achieve this. To reach those in need we will be launching
a major publicity campaign later this year to promote the benefits of improved
literacy and numeracy.

have set ourselves a major challenge but one that, if successful, will bring
benefits to all in the community. With determination and cooperation from all
sectors I know we can meet our objectives.

Wicks MP is the Minister for Lifelong Learning

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