Adults face a number of difficulties when they return to education: finding quiet areas of work at home, balancing family and work time, self confidence issues, lack of skills, finances and a worry for the unknown if they are about to change career direction. Adults are offered more opportunities to return to education than they had previously, with councils running adult education courses through libraries, colleges, schools and community centres across a whole range of different subjects some paid for and some free. Being computer literate can be very important in determining how well an adult learner picks up a subject and develops their skills, but without an understanding of such skills they understandably feel left behind and nervous especially if they have never used a computer before. How important is computing in modern adult education courses and what should the adult learner expect?
Each country will have their own specific qualification network: a stepwise framework of qualifications that people climb up from school education to professor level. The UK, for example, begins with Entry Level courses, designed specifically for adults who have had little formal education or who have been away from education and training for many years and want to change direction or develop their skills, and also for those with learning difficulties to try to help themselves to overcome any barriers they have to learning and increase their job prospects. At schools in the UK, children leave with GCSEs, which are either Level 1, which is four steps up the UK qualifications ladder and is equal to a low GCSE pass, or Level two, which is five steps up the UK qualifications ladder and is equal to a good GCSE pass. Whether or not they want to climb up the ladder further or enter the job market is determined by the individual. The level to which an adult enters the qualification ladder for the first time really depends on their current skill and their role in a company. Those with extensive experience in a particular field could go straight into a high level course such as a Degree without any formal qualifications.
It is common knowledge that all adult education courses based on I.T and business solutions will contain a heavy element of computing technologies. There are a plethora of I.T qualifications suitable for all abilities and understanding, from basic courses on the introduction of computing to all round courses where students learn the basics of the Internet, spreadsheets, word processors and databases, and to specific I.T courses such as further development of databases, web design and desk top publishing.
With Maths and English courses, students would need to understand how to use the Internet and how to use some software packages. For the Internet, there are a number of interactive websites that can aid in the development of Maths and English skills, and increasing current skills. Not only that, but there are also websites that publish tutorials on how Maths and English skills can be improved and developed. Educators would be wise to investigate how Internet resources can be used within their teaching and learning activities and how these resources can be used to facilitate the development of Maths and English skills.
Business courses assume a level of I.T knowledge, because business courses with I.C.T elements educate the learner on how to use computing skills to achieve business goals e.g., data handling, presenting reports, handling business finance, dealing with customer and employee details, and even using project management software to deal with small and large projects.
Learners who are wanting to do art courses might find themselves having to use computers; the Apple range of computers such as the iMac are more commonly used in the art world than PCs, because MACS have highly specialised design and artwork software. In addition to understanding software, different hardware components such as printers, scanners, digital cameras and digital cameras have to be understood in a way that they capture and print images in the highest possible quality or in the quality that is suitable for the course.
Teaching courses, whether they are directed towards the teaching of children or adults, encourage use of technologies to support individual teacher’s teaching and student learning. Those with an I.T background entering a teaching course will undoubtedly have the tools for understanding I.T and applications in general but perhaps not in a pedagogic sense. They would therefore need to be encouraged and trained to explore and use technologies and software to enhance teaching and learning. Student teachers from other disciplines would need to be aware of the general uses of a computer but should also be encouraged to use I.T to help their own understanding of their own teaching, to enhance teaching in their classrooms, and to enhance their students’ learning. As an example, a teacher could use a blog during their time on a teaching course as a diary form of documenting their learning and reflecting back on the learning to identify how they have developed as teachers and as professionals.
Courses that are fairly heavy on practical skills such as catering, hair dressing, horticulture, agriculture, carpentry, and building can all benefit from the use of I.C.T within the course, but by the nature of the work the requirement of I.C.T is far lower than in English, Maths, teaching and business courses. I.T can be used however to present work effectively. For example, a digital camera can be used to take photos of student cookery work, upload them to a computer and print them out to include in their work portfolio as evidence of completion and quality of the work. The only time when computing skills would be essential is if learners were planning to become managers.
Being literate in the use of computing can help present work more effectively, develop a range of skills, improve job prospects and can help to improve self confidence. Even in practical based work, there is still a requirement for using computing to present work effectively but the requirement of understanding a range of applications and technologies is lower. Computing, however, is in general an integral part of adult education, and potential adult learners would be well advised to examine course information carefully in order to understand their own I.T skills and to identify if they need to develop their I.T skills further. For example, learners wanting to learn a trade might want to learn how to use a computer at least to know how they can use computer software to evidence the work that they have completed and the quality of their products. Essentially then, the quantity of software applications and the ways in which a computer can be used that need to be understood depends on the abilities of the individual and the extent to with computing is used on a particular course.