Across the country, ACL tutors have not only offered new online courses, but have also kept an eye on the vulnerable during the Covid lockdown, writes Anna Mimms
Adult and Community Education (ACL) is life changing. In the Covid 19 crisis, ACL reacted the fastest. We created online offers so quickly that we surprised ourselves. At Derby, we created an online answer to Lockdown to help reduce isolation, improve mental health and wellbeing, while increasing support for people affected by job insecurity.
Within five weeks of the lockdown, Derby Adult Learning Services had introduced new online learning opportunities to around 750 learners.
I show myself. We weren’t the only ones.
Tutors across the country called their vulnerable learners, made sure food boxes were delivered, and screened unpaid carers. Courses were created for people seeking protection. We may not be as fancy as the Colleges of FE, but gosh, we make sure we add a social return to ESFA funding investment, which is seldom understood or properly quantified.
David Hughes, executive director of the Association of Colleges, has published a competency-led recovery plan, a document describing the Covid-19 crisis as the greatest shock to the economy, our society and labor markets any of us have seen before . The plan recognizes that young people and lower-skilled adults are always the worst sufferers in a recession.
My experience with the 08/09 economic crisis was that entry-level jobs went to people with qualifications. It happens again in 2020, a constant influx of newly laid-offs, followed by the inevitable tsunami of unemployed, when vacation programs end, floods the job market.
Of course, ACL will offer courses and workshops to help people acquire employability skills, but in addition to mass unemployment, we are heading for a national depression. People are scared and isolated – our collective mental health is badly affected.
School doesn’t work for everyone – we are a second, third, fourth chance. Many of our learners come from complex and challenging backgrounds, and ACL provides a lifeline. We are a melting pot of humanity.
ACL is invaluable to the socio-economic well-being and social mobility of communities at the national level.
Improved reading and numeracy skills, especially in the current climate, can help reduce social isolation, improve access to universal services and improve competitiveness in the labor market.
Here’s just one example: “When we started the Zoom meetings, I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. You made me feel safer. I broke the shame barrier and started speaking English, ”one ESOL student told us.
These feelings of “shame” are real in our learners. They affect mental health, isolate and destroy families and job opportunities.
One of the biggest challenges for the sector is digital poverty.
When services, courses, and support go online, those who don’t have access to WiFi and technology are at risk of increasing isolation and disadvantage.
Ian Bond, Head of ACL Service for Nottinghamshire County Council and LEAFEA Head of East Midlands, emphasizes the key role digital skills will play in fueling economic recovery during the Covid crisis: “Recognizes D2N2 across the LEP region The local industrial strategy clearly states that a The lack of digital skills contributes to a productivity shortage that is 14 percent lower than at the national level and around 32 percent lower in the information and communication sector.
People are scared and isolated – our collective mental health is badly affected
“Adult and community learning services offer a unique combination of non-accredited and accredited programs. Due to Covid-19, they recently reinvented themselves to deliver their programs digitally. ACL providers are ideally configured to play an important role in promoting individual resilience. Regional and national decision-makers need to be aware of the unique support ACL services can provide to help our communities fight rising unemployment, cope with the disproportionate negative economic impact on the low-skilled, and help our economies thrive. “
Adult and community education play a key role in national responses to the socio-economic and mental health problems we face. Now is the time to listen to our voices and notice our collective social impact.