Aspiring lifelong learners need cash and confidence boost

November 14, 2003

Susan Weall, deputy lifelong learning manager for Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole Learning and Skills Council, thinks some of the more common reasons adults give for not getting back into learning, such as transport problems, are often a red herring.

She said: "We find people are using these problems as excuses, when really it's a question of them gaining the self-confidence they need to join a course. It's a psychological barrier they have to overcome."

Her LSC is pioneering a "learning champions" project to help overcome this barrier, by persuading people who have been on a course to accompany adults to their first classes. But it is having to use European funding to finance the project.

Ms Weall said: "It's about being creative at a local level, but it would be nice if there were a pot of money to back this kind of initiative."

Ashley Rowlands, senior executive for the Engineering and Technology Board, said there was a "motivational problem" related to learning among both employers and employees in his sector, which was not addressed by government targets.

"We think the government is targeting the wrong area. Our employers, for the most part, are facing a skills shortage at the technician level rather than at the lower levels," he said.

Inflexibility in the structure of courses and qualifications was to blame for much of the apathy over learning, Mr Rowlands added.

He said: "There is a lot of evidence in our sector that neither employers nor employees are particularly enthusiastic about learning, partly because they see it as too much of a commitment of time and money.

"Once we get flexibility in the system with a credit framework, and supported by e-learning, then we might start getting the message across."

Doreen Patel had been out of learning for 40 years and was "stuck in a rut" until her youngest daughter persuaded her to talk to a friend about signing up for a Learndirect course.

Now the 54-year-old grandmother from Swinton, near Rotherham, is "hooked on learning" and has completed more than 70 Learndirect courses in a year.

Ms Patel said it had not even occurred to her that she would enjoy being an adult learner until her friend told her about the courses available.

For this reason, she feels family and friends have a key role to play in motivating more adults to sign up to courses.

She said: "Advertising can help, but it can be frightening to think about joining a course when you feel you don't know anything.

"That's where it's important to be able to talk to someone you know who has done it. Once you have sat down and talked to someone about it, you feel more like going for it."

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