Chief Executive Tinder Foundation
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Digital skills policy must engage most excluded

6th Oct 2016
Chief Executive Tinder Foundation
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I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Karen Bradley, that, in an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, all adults in the UK who need basic digital skills training will receive it.

It’s great to see digital skills recognised alongside English and maths as some of the basics needed to live and work in a thriving UK.

But.

I am also keen to ensure that in designing this policy, the government thinks outside the box of formal learning and traditional classroom delivery.

I want to see this fantastic commitment go beyond ‘business as usual’ for FE colleges, and really step up and out of institutions to address the complex challenges facing the 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have digital skills.

Prioritising those who are most excluded

The fact is that the reasons behind digital exclusion are diverse and complex. Many of the 12.6 million already face multiple inequalities and barriers - from poor literacy or English skills to disability, poverty or poor health. Many have been put off formal education in the past or just don’t see how digital technology is relevant to them.  

I’m a strong believer that everybody should have the opportunity to succeed, no matter what their background, and we can only achieve this by prioritising support for those who are most excluded.

For these reasons, I hope both DCMS and DfE (Department for Education) will seize the opportunity to put those who are most socially excluded at the very heart of their new policy. This means working with a wide range of community-based organisations - not just colleges - in order to reach, inspire and support the most excluded and vulnerable adults who have the most to gain.

Putting learning into the heart of communities is very much what we do at Tinder Foundation. As the UK’s largest digital inclusion charity, we’re on the frontline of digital skills. Since 2010 have helped over 1.9 million people make the most of technology.

Online learning can drive up quality, while ensuring user-focus, and the right content for the right outcomes.

In large part, our success is down to hyper-local delivery, and the 5,000 strong network of UK online centres based across the country. The organisations in the network - which include community centres, libraries, adult education providers and voluntary groups - are experts at breaking down barriers, finding the hooks to motivate different audiences and personalising learning so it leads to long term, positive outcomes.

Online learning is also key to our impact. We have built and manage the award-winning Learn My Way learning platform, which includes short courses on anything from using a keyboard and mouse through to email, online searching and safety, and on to online shopping, banking, job hunting, use of government services and social media. Learners set their own goals, and are not constrained by a set curriculum or timetable.

I believe online learning can drive up quality, while ensuring user-focus, excellence, and the right content for the right outcomes. It can also drive down costs as it can be scaled quickly and easily. It can empower people to learn skills for themselves, while also providing a universal curriculum for community-based providers who can blend it with great, tailored, informal, and most of all local support.

Community support, online learning

For the new universal right to free basic digital skills to be a success - and to reach those who most need it - I think both the UK online centres network and Learn My Way have an important role to play. It’s a role we’re already playing.

We know Learn My Way is working for people, with more than 10,000 Learn My Way registrations a month. What’s more, it’s working for some of the vulnerable groups most likely to be offline. 83% of Learn My Way learners are counted as ‘socially excluded’. 60% are in receipt of means tested benefits, 27% live in income poverty, 37% live in social or sheltered housing, 32% are unemployed and 25% are disabled.

We also know it results in clear progression. After completing courses with Learn My Way and UK online centres, 62% of learners progress to, towards or within work, and 83% go onto further learning - around half of whom progress to courses leading to accredited qualifications.

I know that we can do even more.

Karen Bradley’s announcement is a significant one - but we need to make sure her vision is executed properly, and that it works for the people with most to gain from digital skills - from opportunities, jobs, services, connections and savings.

I really hope that government will look outside of the more formal adult learning institutions to drive forward a policy that will have real impact. And I’m looking forward to hearing more, working government to get the details right, and seeing this policy enshrined in the Digital Economy bill very soon.

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