Friday, 12 December 2014

NEC supporting skills development in India

Tejwant Chhatwal CEO of EEF and Ros Morpeth CEO of NEC
NEC is pleased to announce the signing of the first agreement with the Education for Employment Foundation (EEF). NEC has granted EEF a licence to take and adapt NEC courses and resources for use across India in both face to face training and online delivery.
India’s economy is changing because of a decline in agricultural employment, which now makes up less than 50% of total employment for the first time in India’s history. This shift has left even college educated people without the necessary skills to undertake the higher skilled jobs on offer as a result of the move toward more manufacturing and service-based industries.
A 2013 study by the ManPower Group revealed that 61% of employers in India have difficulty in finding employees to meet their requirements, which is much higher that the global average of 35%. The reason is clear when you look at the research performed by the Indian Government that suggests that 80% of the population in urban and rural areas do not posses any identifiable, marketable skills. The Government plan to train 500 million people by 2020, which the work done by EEF will support.
EEF is a not-for-profit organisation working with employers, government, education and civic leaders. Based in New Delhi, they aim to work with growth sectors in the developing Indian economy where there is an identified lack of skills and a qualified workforce. EEF will create training programmes that directly link to employment with aim of placing 100% of those completing courses into jobs.
EEF aim to train and place over 1 million trainees, and establish 100 Skills Institutes across the country in the next 5 years. NEC courses and resources will help them to achieve this goal. The first courses to be adapted are all at Level 2 and include Childcare, supervisory management, and business administration. Future plans include adding progression opportunities for learners with more courses at Level 3 in 2015, as well as expansion into to other vocational areas.
Tejwant Chhatwal is Managing Director and CEO of EEF, he told us that 'The Education for Employment Foundation is really excited to be working with NEC. With over 50 years of experience and expertise in developing high quality course materials, NEC is an organisation that has social responsibility and will help to support the EEF’s aim of empowering women through education and training'.
Speaking about this new initiative, Ros Morpeth CEO of NEC said India is a diverse and fast- growing economy that rightly has a great respect for education and training. We are delighted to be working with Tejwant Chhatwal, Jeff Ross and their colleagues at EFF to help raise the level of vocational skills teaching and to enable certification of successful trainees. These course materials are part of our extensive portfolio and we look forward to many more opportunities to support the development of training standards in India’.
Left to right: Jeff Ross-member of the board of EEF and Director of Assessment Tomorrow, Tejwant Chhatwal-
Managing Director and CEO of EEF, Ros Morpeth-CEO of NEC, Roger Merritt-Senior Consultant at NEC.
Learn more about NEC resources and tutor-supported distance learning courses on our website.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Second chance learning: help us spread the learning word!


On Sunday this week, the annual Cambridge Literary Festival (CLF) takes place. The Festival, like NEC, is a registered charity whose aim is the advancement of education for the benefit of the public by the promotion of literature, language and the arts. With such a lot in common, it seemed only natural that NEC and CLF join up to spread the learning word!

We believe that everyone deserves a second chance at learning — no matter what their age, educational background, life circumstances and interests. Together with the Festival and Festival authors, we are hoping to highlight the importance and benefits of second chance learning.

Everyone has a different reason to study, a different goal to aim for and different experiences of education in the past. Whatever the reason, learning is not a given once you have left school, and there are thousands of men and women in the UK who left school earlier than they would have liked, or did not thrive in the classroom.

For some though, returning to education can be an intimidating prospect. Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and author of On Liberty, says, ‘Returning to education can seem daunting, but it is the key to so many doors — regardless of when you study.’

In 2011, a study undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the children of parents who frequently read with them in the first year of school still show the benefits when they are 15. Even so, the Literacy Trust reports that only one in three parents read to their children every day. Second chance learning can really make a difference by helping parents become more confident readers and writers so they can read to their children and learn as a family.

The number of people studying at university has been falling, in fact it has fallen by 50% in the last four years. Flexible routes to A levels for people who are working or have family or caring responsibilities are essential in providing second chances to people, and helping them to realise long term goals.

Margaret Drabble, novelist, biographer and critic, author of ‘The Pure Gold Baby’, ‘The Radiant Way’, ‘The Millstone’ and ‘The Needle’s Eye’, is a great believer in second chance learning. ‘Sian James, memorably portrayed by Jessica Gunning in the Film Pride, is one of the most impressive of late learners,’ she reminds us. ‘A miner’s wife, she was an activist during the strike, then went on to take her A levels and study for a Welsh Language degree before becoming a Labour MP. She is a shining example of what can be done in middle life.’

Trade unions also play a role in second chance learning for workers, working with employers to make sure that they get the training that they need. Alan Johnson MP, author of ‘This Boy’ and ‘Please, Mr Postman’, has seen this first hand. He says, ‘The untold story of social mobility in this country is the role of trade unions and second chance learning. Becoming a trade union official opened up a whole new world of educational opportunity for me via TUC correspondence courses.’

A 2006 study for NIACE (the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education) shows that learning later in life helps to prolong active life, delay dependency and sustain independent living. Ali Smith, novelist and author of ‘How to be both’, ‘Artful’, ‘There but for the’ and ‘The Accidental’, agrees. She says, ‘The older we get, the more exciting new learning gets. An image to sum up second chance learning? One of those beautiful spring trees loaded with blossom all along its branches.’

There are so many more reasons to support second chance learning, from reducing rates in reoffending (see our previous blog: Second-chance learning: prisoners need education too) to preparing to leave the forces and take on a new career. We could go on!

We’re asking you to get involved in spreading the learning word on social media. Why not write a 50-word story and post it on the Festival’s Facebook page, about your own learning experience for the chance to win a copy of Alan Johnson’s ‘Please, Mr Postman.’ You can also get involved on Twitter, using the hashtag #thelearningword. Keep up with how we’re spreading the learning word on our website.

To learn more about distance learning and some of the inspirational learners studying with NEC, visit our website, or ask us for a copy of our Guide to Courses. The Cambridge Literary Festival takes place this Sunday, 30th November. More information and a timetable of events can be found on their website.

Find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — we would love to hear from you!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Distance education: Catherine's route to life-long learning

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Part time Library Assistant Catherine Speechley has passed her IGCSE in Biology with NEC and is now studying for an IGCSE in French
NEC student Catherine has what she describes as a haphazard routine, with her hours of work constantly changing. Her time at school was positive, and she left with 10 GCSEs and four A levels, going on to do a master’s degree at St Andrew’s University.
Catherine was frustrated when she was at school that she had to drop some subjects because there was a limit to the number of GCSEs pupils could do. Now in her 40s, she is catching up with the subjects she left behind. When Catherine wanted to study biology, she knew that distance learning was the right way to go as she would not have been able to work around a college timetable. She had already had a taste of open and distance learning when she did a course in web design a few years ago.
The decision to opt for NEC was a simple one: ‘When I enquired about the course, I got a proper reply from a human being rather than being sent in the direction of information on a website.’ The NEC also offered value for money in comparison with the other options she had researched and allowed her to study at her own pace. She began studying in May 2012 and passed her IGCSE two years later.
‘Distance learning with NEC has been just what I hoped it would be,’ says Catherine. ‘In fact, it has exceeded my expectations as everything has worked – the tutors and the course materials have all been great. The tutors are so encouraging with their comments and don’t inundate you with loads of heavy corrections. They manage to point you in the right direction with just a few words, even if you have lost the plot! I particularly liked the way NEC was able to arrange for me to sit my exams at a local centre. All I had to do was fill in a form, pay and turn up for the exams!’
She adds: ‘Distance learning works for me because I’m very self-motivated and know exactly how much self-discipline you need to succeed. I’m now studying French with NEC and love the way you can upload assignments to the website for your tutor to mark as it’s so convenient.’
Her employer has been very positive about her wish to keep on learning and in the past has even funded her to do courses such as Levels 1 and 2 British Sign Language, which took three years to complete.
‘People learn in different ways and distance learning is quite a challenge if you’re not used to studying on your own,’ concludes Catherine. ‘To anyone wondering whether distance learning is right for them, I would say go for it - but be very aware that the motivation is down to you.’

To find out more about NEC, our work, and the wide range of flexible distance learning courses we offer, visit our website. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Second-chance learning: prisoners need education too!

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At NEC, second-chance learning has always been at the heart of what we do. It goes right back to why we were founded by social entrepreneur Michael Young over 50 years ago. Since then, we have been able to support adults and young people from all walks of life fit education into their lives through the flexibility of distance learning, including new parents trying to juggle family commitments with studying, members of the Armed Forces who are serving overseas, and even offenders who are serving custodial sentences in prisons.

For many years, we have worked together with the Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) in order to support this latter type of learner. During that time we have seen the huge difference education can make to offenders. But you don’t need to take our word for it – in fact, the Ministry of Justice’s own research illustrates the ability of education to reduce the chances of a prisoner re-offending after their release.

This means not only can education make a difference to the learner themselves and their prospects after release, but ultimately for all of us as the likelihood of re-offending drops.

Organisations like PET and the Howard League for Penal Reform have worked hard over the years to not only help improve the access to education for prisoners, but also to raise awareness of the need to do so. On Monday, PET’s Chief Executive, Rod Clark, highlighted to Parliament the need to support a wide range of learning opportunities in prisons. Currently, barriers such as staff shortages and a focus on basic skills are preventing this from happening.

A recent report by PET has found that:
  • 41% of respondents did not engage in education because nothing was available at a high enough level for them, and some were studying courses well below their level due to a lack of options
  • 28% of respondents had a learning difficulty or disability and 66% of them had not received support for this
  • 83% of respondents found access to, and support for, the Virtual Campus intranet to be poor, and 58% had not received support for distance learning.

However, the level of interest in education amongst prisoners despite any difficulties remains high:
  • 69% of respondents thought education had a positive impact on their ability to cope with prison
  • 81% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to occupy their time usefully
  • 71% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to gain qualifications
  • 70% of respondents who wanted to learn said they wished to improve their job prospects.

The difficulties faced by prisoners when they try to access education were not helped by the ban on books being sent in by loved ones, which was introduced last year. The ban unfortunately remains in place to this day, but there are signs that the importance to rehabilitation of access to books, and education in general, are finally starting to be recognised by the Government.

Last week we were delighted to hear that, after months of campaigning by the Howard League and supporters of Books For Prisoners, an urgent policy update from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has been sent to prison governors. This allows them, with immediate effect, to exercise their discretion and let prisoners have more than the previous limit of 12 books where they are below their overall volumetric control limit, ‘given the particularly important role books can play in rehabilitation.’

It is encouraging to see the vital role of books and the importance of education acknowledged in this way, and we hope to see progress continue. As Rod Clark told Parliament on Monday, prisoners need a smarter approach to rehabilitation through policies that enable them to progress. We agree that it is important they are given opportunities to learn, and to learn at a level appropriate to them, because by helping people to invest in their futures we invest not only in them, but in our wider society.

To learn more about our partner, PET, and their work with prisoners, visit their website for further information. You can also read a PDF copy of their latest report by clicking here.

To find out more about NEC, our work, and the wide range of flexible distance learning courses we offer, visit our website or get in touch. You can keep up to date with all our latest news and events by subscribing to our newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Educating Yorkshire with Open School in a Box

Above: Open School in a Box – student engagement on school premises and on field trips

Viewers of Educating Yorkshire met Thornhill Community Academy head teacher Jonny Mitchell and his staff last year on Channel 4’s fly-on-the-wall documentary that tells it how it really is in today’s state secondary schools. One year on, and the National Extension College (NEC) has just walked through those familiar front doors carrying one of the prototypes for Open School in a Box. The visit marks the culmination of discussions that began in the spring term about the school’s involvement in beta-testing the Nominet Trust-funded Open School in a Box.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate how innovative digital technology can improve educational chances and have social impact by providing access to high quality digital materials over a local wi-fi hot spot. Where better to look at the impact it could make on young people’s learning than a secondary school determined to make a difference to every one of its pupils?

Round the table with us on our first visit to the school were teaching and pastoral staff, including those with responsibility for setting up the school’s first internal exclusion unit and for making provision for pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Matthew Dalton, responsible for technology at Thornhill Academy, knows that the simplicity of the Open School in a Box concept will be a winner with teachers. So the first success indicator for the pilot will be how easy they find it to use in the classroom.

It became clear very quickly that free access to most (filters permitting) of what the web has to offer is often an impediment to learning for secondary school pupils. Regardless of their role in the school, the obvious appeal of Open School in a Box to all of them was its ability to focus students on specific learning content - and keep them away from the distraction provided by Instagram, Snapchat and current favourite, the video game Angry Birds.

The Open School in a Box prototype now at Thornhill Academy has been pre-loaded with Wikipedia for Schools, all 46,000 of the e-books available through Project Gutenberg and Khan Academy Lite (developed by Khan Academy intern Jamie Alexandre with the aim of bringing Khan Academy’s ‘free world class education for anyone anywhere’ to the 65% of the world that doesn’t have internet access). Units from NEC’s maths and English Language IGCSE courses are also on offer for pupils at Key Stage 4 who need structured learning at GCSE level to complement the school curriculum.

Including Thornhill Academy in the beta testing pilot will enable the project team to assess the impact on teaching and learning of delivering courses and related content through Open School in a Box and wi-fi-linked portable devices used by students. We are asking teachers to answer three questions. First, what can you do with Open School in a Box in the classroom? Next, how would you do it without Open School in a box? Lastly, what have you tried with pupils because you have Open School in a Box that you would not have done otherwise?

A question the project team is asking as a result of what we have learned from Thornhill Community Academy is whether we need a digital divide of a new kind for students for whom exam success is so critical. It would be one that points them in the direction of what they need to engage with on the school premises and on field trips - and steers them constructively away from where many of them would choose to go in the digital space, given a free hand. What we find out from Thornhill Community Academy over the next few months will tell us whether Open School in a Box is one way of achieving that far beyond West Yorkshire.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Celebrating Biology Week 2014

It’s a good autumn for spiders. Last month, The Guardian reported on a new free app for people who want to learn more about spiders and contribute to biologists’ study of the eight-legged invertebrate. Created by an entomologist and ecologist at the University of Gloucestershire, the Spider in da house app will help biologists gather data on the number of spiders in the UK, their gender, when they appear and how their behaviour is affected by the weather.

Anyone interested in the science behind all living things has a reason to study biology – including arachnophobes. Biology Week, organised by The Society of Biology, is taking place this week. Over 40 events have been taking place across the country in the Society’s annual festival of the biosciences, which aims to encourage more people to take a scientific interest in the world around them.

If you are at a loose end tomorrow and want to learn something new, Big Biology Day is taking place at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge, and offers a whole day of hands-on biology fun for everyone. Lozenge Nature Area in Brightlingsea, Essex is hosting The British Naturalists Association’s Family Bug Hunt. All you have to take with you is a jam jar, dust-pan and brush. At various locations in Newcastle and the north east, The Amazing Brain is a series of events that look at what brain scanning technology can do for humans, science and animal welfare. The Mud Lab in Belfast will introduce primary school children to the life and intrigue below the surface of mud flats.

Perhaps you have always been interested in biology but don’t know if it’s for you. The Khan Academy offers free learning content in a vast range of subjects, including biology and is a good way to have a go before committing yourself to a more formal programme of study such as the IGCSE and A level courses offered by NEC. You can sign up and start learning whatever takes your fancy in a couple of minutes.

Khan Academy’s Crash Course: Biology is taught by Hank Green, whose direct style is apparent from the start of the course. ‘Everyone watching this should be interested in sex and not dying given that you are, I assume, a human being.’ Module titles are intriguing and give a good flavour of how accessible the science of biology can be: ‘Water – liquid awesome’, ‘Eukaryopolis – the city of animal cells’, ‘Mitosis – splitting up is complicated’ and ‘Genetics – when Darwin met Mendel’.

Another option is to have a look at this month’s free NEC Learning Challenge short course on Biology. It covers transport systems in plants and humans and the human circulatory system and includes practical activities that use everyday materials you will probably already have at at home, including food dye, paper and celery stems. This course forms an extract from NEC’s IGCSE in Combined Science, and is included in the resources for teachers that the Society of Biology has put together to support the teaching of biology in schools.

Can you really study biology through distance learning? It’s a question we are asked by potential students and by schools. Unsurprisingly, NEC’s response is that you certainly can. The evidence that the subject can be studied to A level just as successfully at home as in the formal environment of a school or college lies in the results of NEC students. The number of A level A* grades achieved by NEC students has increased this year, and in biology, the increase is particularly marked. One in seven A level biology students achieved the top A* grade against the national average of one in 10.

To learn more about this fascinating subject, or to find out more about NEC and the wide variety of flexible distance learning courses we offer, visit our website. You can keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, 26 September 2014

How to learn a language through distance learning

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Above: Logo of the European Day of Languages
Image credit: Council of Europe

The European Day of Languages has drawn some welcome attention to the subject area of modern foreign languages and encouraged people to learn one for themselves. But while the importance of learning other languages in an increasingly globalised society may be something you’ve heard of before, you might not know that doing so through distance learning is an option even for a subject as practical as this.

At NEC we offer IGCSEs in French and Spanish, as well as A Level French. The successes we saw for this year’s results – for example at IGCSE level, where a third of our learners achieved a Grade A* – shows you don’t have to learn in a classroom to learn a foreign language. Our students receive one-to-one support from a dedicated personal tutor who is an expert in their subject, and further support from their course co-ordinator. Students can also sit the oral component of their exams in Cambridge, where NEC is headquartered.

Our students learn a lot during their studies, but over the years we’ve learned a lot from providing the courses they study too. So in light of today’s focus on languages, we thought we’d put together some of what we’ve learned to help you if you’re considering learning a language, or if you’re already learning and just looking for some general advice.

Prepare and plan ahead

First, the all-important preparation. If you’re not sure which language you want to learn, look around online and you will find a variety of free activities and resources. As well as being a fun learning exercise in their own right, these resources will give you a taste of what a particular language is like, and can help you to choose whether you want to study one further.

Once you’ve chosen a language, plan out your study time to ensure you make good progress. How much time can you give to your studies and what resources do you have at your disposal? Do you work best late in the evening or early in the morning? Could you make more efficient use of your time by reading or listening to your language materials instead of the news during the morning commute?

If you’ve formally enrolled on a course, examine how your course materials are organised to help you create a study schedule.

Practise, practise, practise

Practice makes perfect, especially when trying to learn a language which may be very different to your own. This can be particularly relevant for speaking and listening. NEC tutor Robert, who supports learners enrolled on our A level French course, uses the example of how spoken English is a ‘time-stressed’ language, which means that native speakers are listening for emphasis or stress on certain syllables without even realising it. It then becomes necessary to get used to listening for different cues when learning a different language.

‘The rhythm and intonation of French is different,’ Robert explains, ‘And depends on following the grouping of words and the rise and fall of the voice at the end of phrases.’ Practice (and patience!) are therefore needed at listening and speaking.

‘The more we listen and the more we manage to imitate the music and rhythm of the language, the more we shall be in a position to communicate successfully with native French speakers,’ says Robert. He also points out, ‘This is where regular aural and oral practise with a distance learning tutor can help if you live in a part of the country where there are no native speakers of the target language.’

As you practise, try to avoid the common pitfall of ‘translation’ – thinking of what you want to say in your native language first, before then translating it into your target language. This will only make the process more complicated, and crucially hinders fluency. The sooner you can start thinking in the language you are learning instead of your own, the easier you will find it.

Review and maintain your progress

It’s important to review and test yourself as you work through your course. It can be very easy to forget things when you’re not actively trying to remember them, so reviewing regularly can help you recall significantly more of what you learn than if you don’t review at all. This is why NEC course materials include self-check activities and tutor-marked assignments to help our students progress.

Rewriting, re-ordering and condensing notes is a great way of making what you’ve previously learned more memorable, and the act of processing that information is widely known to increase your ability to retain it for longer. It’s a proven technique that students everywhere still use when revising for exams… which will come in handy for the next point.

If your course leads to a formal qualification in your chosen language, you may need to sit an exam. For our A level and IGCSE courses, NEC learners can choose to sit their written exams at one of our seven partnership centres across the UK, or alternatively at a local centre of their own.

There are also often oral exams for language courses, which may need to be taken separately to the written papers. At NEC we provide a way for our students to sit these exams by giving them the option to come to Cambridge, where we are based, and take their oral exams here.

To learn more about our flexible distance learning language courses, or to browse our full range, visit our website. You can keep up to date with all the latest NEC news and events by subscribing to our email newsletter or following our blog. You can also find us on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.