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There is no magic trick for reaching the most vulnerable learners

Authors: Ivana Studená Published:

Basic skills training for low skilled adults requires diverse approaches, forms and tools, Ivana Studená writes. The text is a column written for Speakers’ Corner series.

“Leaving no one behind” has become the rallying cry for promoters of the lifelong learning approach to skills and education policies.

There is now a common understanding about the urgent need to support low-skilled adults, who have been undoubtedly left behind – with the COVID crisis further worsening their situation. However, there is a less of an understanding of exactly how important it is to ensure that the learning opportunities are diverse and truly accessible for people needing them.

Slovakia serves as an interesting example of how tricky it can be to start solving this problem. Slovak Public Employment Services have a good track record of offering training programmes for both vocational and general skills training courses. These programmes, however, are usually not accessible to low skilled unemployed.

MANY OF THE LOW SKILLED unemployed come from the marginalised Roma communities (MRC), concentrated in specific regions, and are afflicted with various socio-economic disadvantages. One of the key challenges of MRC are their low levels of basic skills, including literacies, knowledge of official Slovak language and digital skills.

National schemes might not have the capacity and structure to reach out to the most vulnerable learners from MRC. Luckily, there are some NGOs in Slovakia with a positive track record in reaching out to the most disadvantaged.

To engage low skilled adults, it is important that their learning activities connect with their daily situations and problems they need to deal with.

NGO “Wayout”, for example, developed a fantastic project “Omama” with a focus on parenting skills for early child development. They identify members of the Roma community, women who are well respected by the local community – “omamas”. Omamas are trained in the methods of early child development and those who complete the training are employed by the NGO. Omamas, supported further by professionals and mentors, then counsel parents in the Roma community.

From my point of view this is a fantastic example of addressing basic skills in the context of life skills, focusing on motivation and initiating interest in further learning.

PROJECTS SUCH AS THIS are funded by ad hoc resources from different sponsors. It would be great to develop systematic support from public funding for these grass root activities. And to do so, we need to develop tools that would help us gather information on the levels of skills of disadvantaged learners within different target groups.

The State Vocational Education Institute recently put together a project called BLUESS (Blueprints for Basic Skills Development in Slovakia), and one of its aims was developing a tool for assessment of skills of low skilled adults. A relatively small project succeeded in connecting teams from employment and education sectoral ministries – something that, statistically, rarely happens.

Within BLUESS project I also had the opportunity to experience that with limited practice in basic skills’ provision, there is also a limited common understanding of how this segment of adult learning provision could be supported and how it could function effectively.

More focus on dissemination and awareness activities might still be needed. This also applies to the inequality carried over to the next generations, in terms of weaker educational outcomes of children from weak socio-economic backgrounds.

IT IS VITAL TO RECOGNISE that successful programmes aiming to increase levels of basic skills for low skilled adults often require diverse approaches, forms and tools.

I am convinced that it is equally important to support organisations or individual practitioners who have already demonstrated capacity to reach out to and work with vulnerable groups.

To engage low skilled adults, it is important that their learning activities connect with their daily situations and problems they need to deal with. Every project that activates low skilled adults matters. Because, when talking about low skills, every individual matters.

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Ivana Studená is a senior researcher at the Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (CSPS SAS). Her research interests include adult education policies, human capital, skills strategies and labour markets. Ivana provides expert consultancy to public and non-government institutions in the area of lifelong learning and adult education policies. Show all articles by Ivana Studená
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