From education to employment

Maths and English Report shows important role of online learning

Mark Dawe, the Skills Network

Mark Dawe, CEO of The Skills Network, says latest research shows that embracing online learning for Maths and English can help improve results – but that the Government needs to listen to enable this to happen.

The latest research shows embracing online learning for Maths and English can help improve results – the Government needs to listen

Last month, The Skills Network unveiled groundbreaking research using the experiences of learners to help inform the conversation around how we improve learning around Maths and English across the UK.

The research outlined a variety of ways that practical improvements could be made, but one of the key findings was that 64.05% of people surveyed believed that incorporating more technology could improve students’ opinions of Maths and English – helping to tackle the widely held view that these can be ‘boring’ subjects in the classroom.

It is noticeable that the 25-34 age range – a key demographic when looking at filling skills shortages in the job market – gave a considerably more favourable response than average, with 80.17% wanting to use more technology for core learning.

We need to work together to tackle stigma

It is clear that as a country we need to work together to tackle stigma, listen to learners and use the latest advancements in technology to help improve outcomes – and we need to find blended approaches, tailored to the needs of individual learners – but alongside this we need buy in from Government and others to ensure that we let go of the comfort blanket of old ways of working, that often hold people back.

The Government seems afraid of embracing modern ways of working. For example, in recent days, we have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that the ‘default’ position for workers should be working from offices, rather than allowing people to work online in more flexible ways, where jobs allow this. The half empty offices on Whitehall bear testament to the fact that this restrictive view won’t prove popular amongst workers, but more importantly it is unlikely to prove effective at driving up achievement.

The importance of core or functional skills is a hot topic right now.

Everyone agrees that Maths and English are vitally important along with digital skills, particularly with the recent acceleration of artificial intelligence – and probably, more recently, also an understanding of the green agenda. Along with broader ‘employability skills’, all of these factors are likely to impact every job in the country.

If the Prime Minister and his colleagues are serious that they want Britain to ‘reimagine’ its approach to numeracy and ensure that young people ‘feel confident’ with finances, what they need to do is listen and learn. Sadly little meaningful progress has been made for those that need this help the most in recent years – and that is because difficult decisions need to be made in order to transform learning opportunities, career opportunities and life outcomes for the better.

Our research also showed that cultural indifference plays a powerful part when it comes to accessing decent foundations in core subjects – with many people continuing to feel being bad at Maths is somehow socially acceptable (more so than being bad at English), even though 46.2% of respondents said that they needed to have a GCSE (or equivalent) in Maths (or a GCSE in Maths and English) in order to start their first job after school.

As one of the UK’s leading online learning providers, The Skills Network are uniquely positioned to help the sector and decision-makers in Government understand these issues. We work to upskill over 35,000 learners in the UK each year; we work with 5,000 organisations across a variety of sectors; we partner with over 500 colleges and independent learning providers; and over the last decade we have helped over 1.6 million learners through our bespoke online learning portal EQUAL. Listening and learning, together we can move this issue forward.

The Covid pandemic showed how technology could assist with helping people access information and education like never before, but also showed us how not to deliver online learning as well – and that was often when there were attempts to replicate the classroom on screen. Looking at how learners can access their information and learning is pivotal. The data from our survey results show that most people carry a phone or tech device, backing up the existing research which indicates that fewer and fewer people in the UK are without internet enabled devices. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the very real challenges of digital exclusion, but rather that we shouldn’t be afraid of embracing digital options if they can offer effective, efficient and accessible solutions to tackle existing problems.

We need flexibility to ensure courses engage individuals

We need flexibility to ensure courses engage individuals, whilst allowing them to undertake learning quickly and easily, fitting with their often busy lives. The likes of shift workers or busy parents and carers likely struggled to find the time to educate themselves further before online and remote learning have taken a huge step forward, and this is something that should be celebrated and encouraged further.

Digital developments have opened the doors for so many people, giving them access to the information they need to further enhance their careers. Not everyone has the same lifestyle so ensuring we’re flexible in our approach as providers is so important to supporting this need for inclusive skill development. Even online, a scheduled time can cause difficulties.

Encouraging businesses to grow and meet skills shortages by upskilling their workforces

We want to not only take learners onto the next stage of development, but also encourage businesses to grow and meet skills shortages by upskilling their workforces, alongside boosting local economies and communities which may in the past have been left behind by promoting personal and corporate development.

As a leading technology provider, we agree with the suggestion that blended learning experiences are often a good fit for learners. Let’s remember that as well as high quality resource-based learning now being available online, that lessons and live tutorials can also be delivered online, giving people the flexibility they need to meet their learning goals.

The ability to learn online is a great step towards ensuring everyone has access to new skills and career development opportunities, outside of the traditional education system.  

What we need is for the Government and others in the sector to listen and recognise the positive role online learning can play in the learner journey, helping to transform the lives of individuals and communities across the UK – please download our latest research and let us know if you agree!

By Mark Dawe, CEO of The Skills Network.

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