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The future for skills
The NRDC International Conference offered practitioners and researchers insights into how the problem of a lack of essential skills in the adult population is tackled throughout different parts of the world. However, it was also interesting to hear from Neil Robertson, Head of the Skills for Life Strategy Unit, on the Government's thinking re. the way forward in the field of key skills. While I liked the targets for 2020 - 95 per cent of the population should have Level 1 literacy and Entry Level 3 numeracy and 90 per cent should have a Level 2 qualification - there was no clear information as to how this was to be funded and achieved. The embedding of basic skills in ICT and the need for vocational skills at Level 2 were important steps for the future but the emphasis on 'Growth in Confidence' was especially dear to my heart. I was also very interested to hear about the latest research project being undertaken by NRDC to evaluate the importance of persistence. I work with offenders in the National Probation Service and see this as the most important goal. Dealing with those who have been unable to sustain any formal consistent educational engagement I personally have seen many times the difference that motivation and perseverance can make in a person's learning journey. I await any forthcoming report with interest.
Congratulations on this year's international conference. It was packed with crucially relevant information and buzzed with an atmosphere of professional camaraderie. I especially enjoyed learning about the research carried out in the US and Brazil, and will keep tabs on this in future.
Embedding research in the long term
In answer to Mary Hamilton's question regarding practitioner research, 'Just a fling...or a long-term relationship?' (reflect, October 2006), the answer must be a long-term relationship. Two decades of research in practice by members of RAPAL, as well as by overseas colleagues, especially the outstanding Canadian network, RIPAL, have demonstrated its impact on professional formation, on the democratic inclusion of adult literacy learners in research processes and on the generation of new, hard-to-reach knowledge. It is difficult to imagine how this could conceivably be described as a shortfling.
Given suchpowerful outcomes, the important question is how such research can be embedded in adult literacy practice across the board. Hamilton rightly points out the weakness of relying atany one time on small numbers of keen converts. Hence the recent practitionerresearch project at the University of Wolverhampton* has underlined the importance of:
1 - reconceptualising the basic skills teacher role to include a strong investigative and theorising stance. Research questions abound at the heart of most adult literacy practice; and there is always an interpretive challenge.
2 - including research in practice activity at some stage in all teacher training programmes.
3 - developing a raft of funded, accredited modular research opportunities in a wide range of universities.
4 - developing democratic research cultures in colleges of further education.
Clearly a long-term, systemic response is needed.
Visiting Professor of Education
University of Wolverhampton
*Herrington, M. (2006) A Practitioner Researcher Project. Working with the Adult Literacy Curriculum: A Case Study from the Black Country Colleges. LSC Report. Walsall: University of Wolverhampton