When Sir William Beveridge wrote his seminal report ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ in 1942, he highlighted five ‘Evil Giants’ as threats to post-war prosperity: Want, Squalor, Idleness, Ignorance and Disease. Some of these terms would not be used today perhaps, but we can recognise the disadvantage each continues to bring to individual lives in our modern world. As all countries struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic, our own efforts to tackle educational inequality have met a massive hurdle – ‘Disease’. This raises significant challenges for people who are trying to improve their life opportunities through learning. You may recognise some or all of the following examples described by members of the Literacy100 team working in the homelessness sector:
· Individuals often lack devices with which to access learning opportunities and other forms of support. A smaller proportion may not own mobile phones, but many do not have lap-tops, tablets or access to the internet.
· No access to TV or radio also limits social and communication development.
· Most significantly, progress in literacy is compromised because skills cannot be practised, developed or applied.
· With libraries closed, individuals are unable to access the resources they once could.
· Consultation is still taking place to decide how results will be calculated for adult learners/FE courses. This causes a high level of insecurity in individuals for whom education is an important part of their journey out of homelessness.
Health and welfare
· Without online access, individuals are unable to use many health services. This can be confusing and frustrating.
· Mental health is at risk for people living in isolation, who are no longer able to have regular social interaction or to engage in organised activities.
· Lock-down restrictions create social tensions in shared accommodation. These raise anxiety and can diminish the ability to interact.
· Adults with children may be living in cramped accommodation with few resources for their children to learn, and no opportunity for their own learning progression.
Over-stretched support workers
· Tutors’ time is stretched as they try to adapt activities to individuals remotely and on a variety of devices.
· Accommodation staff are particularly busy now. It is difficult to ensure that they are aware of residents’ additional learning or language needs, which can lead to breakdowns in communication.
The Centenary Commission on Adult Education reported in 2019. In his commentary on the report, Jonathan Michie (Joint Secretary of the Commission) refers to Dame Helena Kennedy’s lamentation that declines in post-1980s adult education services heralded a return to the principle: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, you don’t succeed’. Like you, we at Literacy100 are striving to ensure that those we support do not fall by the wayside again as a consequence of Covid-19. As the Centenary Commission report recognised, third sector organisations have a close connection with the pressing issues of our client group. Literacy100 recognises that you have been and will continue to be creative in developing new ideas and strategies to promote learning.
We aim to support your valuable work, and invite you to share your own ideas, resources and experiences of best practice during Covid-19 by emailing us at email@example.com. We hope to feature useful resources and contributions from the network on the Resources page of our website, so please ensure you have permission to share before sending.
The Centenary Commission on Adult Education (2019). Adult Education and Lifelong Learning for 21st Century Britain. Available from: www.centenarycommission.org
Kennedy Report (1997). Learning Works: Widening Participation in Further Education. Coventry: Further Education Funding Council 1997
Michie, J. (18 November 2019). The Centenary Commission on Adult Education. Blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute. Available from: https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2019/11/18/10528/