NIACE applauds steps to support millions of adults get online

15 April 2014

NIACE applauds the Government for the steps it is taking in supporting millions of adults to be able to confidently and safely use the Internet, but would like to see an increase in funding for specific projects to make progress more quickly.

The Government’s new strategy to get 2.7 million more people online in the next two years gives important recognition to the need to address low levels of literacy as one of the most entrenched barriers to internet access. The support for better partnership working is critical in this area, as well as in other areas of lifelong learning.

David Hughes, NIACE Chief Executive, said:

“Around 21% of Britain’s population currently lack the basic digital skills and capabilities required to use the internet. This means that they are unable to access public services, at a time when an increasing number of government services move online, as well as benefit from the myriad of other information, services, connections which the internet provides. A high proportion of these people are some of the most vulnerable, isolated and disadvantaged in society – including those in social housing, on low wages, unemployed, with disabilities, older people, offenders and the 2.6 million adults with low levels of literacy.

“To address this challenge, NIACE wants to see more emphasis on accessibility for users challenged by language and/or literacy in the development of online government services. We are also supporting the education world to develop better integration of digital skills in learning at all ages and want to see teachers, lecturers and tutors supported and encouraged to use technology more effectively.

“Recent community learning funds which NIACE has managed on behalf of the Skills Funding Agency have illustrated how relatively small amounts of funding can make a significant impact. I would like to see more funding to allow replication of proven approaches as well as to explore new ones. Many organisations are already taking community approaches to digital inclusion, but we need more programmes – particularly in rural areas and for marginalised groups – which embed digital skills in learning, prioritising literacy, numeracy and work-related skills. There is also evidence of the impact which volunteer and mentoring programmes have on digital exclusion such as through Community Learning Champions, however, we need to ensure these approaches become more widespread.”

The latest evidence from CLIF projects demonstrates that adults who are currently excluded from the digital world – and who are amongst the most difficult to reach – can be successfully engaged by community-based programmes. However, it is essential that these programmes build on their individual motivations, inspire them to access and use the internet, and empower them to develop their digital skills to attain their individual goals and enhance their lives.

The research, published today, has found that:

  • Community learning can successfully engage hard-to-reach or disadvantaged adults and motivate them to go online by keeping digital skills relevant and useful to their real-life needs.
  • Community-based learning taking place in non-pressurised learning contexts where staff understand learners’ needs and treat them equally, increases confidence and self-esteem.
  • Community-based learning providers and third sector organisations which successfully co-ordinate and support digital champions and mentors, have an important role to play in offering effective support to digitally excluded adults.
  • Community-based digital inclusion programmes can empower and train adults, enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning and develop the skills they need for the future.
  • Local digital inclusion initiatives benefit from the co-ordination of existing community access points.
  • Smart mobile devices are making digital skills easier to learn and many programmes use tablets rather than PCs with their learners. Their use is particularly effective with particular groups, such as older people and adults with low levels of literacy. However, PCs are useful to develop digital skills for employability.
  • Many successful approaches to digital inclusion use cross-sector partnerships to recruit from niche groups.
  • Many successful CLIF projects made effective use of volunteers to engage, recruit and support learners, creating added value and supporting local digital inclusion agendas.