Thursday, 26 March 2015

Why we #loveFE and why everyone should care about saving adult education

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“Our work at NEC means we’ve seen exactly how vital access to lifelong learning is for people, for the economy, and for society as a whole.”

Today is #LoveFE Day, part of a major national campaign launched in response to the announcement of a proposed 24% cut to the adult education budget, on top of the previous cuts the sector has already suffered. This would be devastating to further education (FE) provision, making it even harder for people to access opportunities to improve their education and their prospects. It also seems counterproductive to the urgent need to fill skills gaps, increase workplace productivity, and boost the economy.

When NEC was first established in 1963, founder Michael Young described his reasons for setting up what became the pilot for the Open University: ‘We were searching for education without institution, learning while earning, courses which people of all ages could take in their own time, at their own pace.’ Over 50 years later it seems there has never been a greater need for this kind of educational opportunity, as the world we live and work in continues to change.

It is a fact that the population is ageing. At the moment, around one in six people in the UK are over 65, by 2050 this will increase substantially to one in four. There will just not be enough young people to fill the estimated 13.5 million job vacancies, our only option is to work longer. It means we will need more opportunities to upskill and retrain into later life. There is already a skills crisis now, this will only get worse over time if adult education and lifelong learning are not supported and embraced by Government.

For people facing redundancy, or people who did not thrive in a mainstream school environment, or people who want to change careers and help fill today’s skills shortages, or people who need specialised support to re-engage with learning and change their lives for the better, it will be even harder to access the education they need to contribute to society. The work we do at NEC and with our partners has shown us first-hand how powerful education can be if people are supported and encouraged to access it. You only have to browse through our blog to see some of the positive impact adult education has made!

This is why we are wholeheartedly supporting the #LoveFE campaign and urge you to do the same. We should all care about access to adult learning because any of us may find ourselves needing it one day. Education benefits everyone, and everyone should be able to take part in it.

Please add your signature to the campaign’s petition and help to spread the word. Every voice counts.

Here are some thoughts from the team at NEC on why they personally feel that access to adult education is so essential:

As both an adult learner and a tutor to adults in the past, I know just how important the opportunity for lifelong learning is. It can be the start of a new career, a chance to try a new sport or hobby, or the beginnings of a long journey to speak another language. Adults often take up classes in retirement as they finally have time to do something for themselves, or learn a subject that they missed out on earlier on in life. Many learners make new friends through adult education and for some it's something to do with current friends or partners. Adult education is so much more than just going on to the next stage of a qualification. I have never stopped learning and fully intend to continue for as long as I am able.
— Stephanie

Because it’s impossible to teach/train young people everything they’ll need to know for a lifetime when we don't even know what job roles will exist 10 or 20 years from now. They'll need opportunities for education when they’re adults in the future, and currently working-age adults need opportunities now.
— Sophie

It’s important to be able to learn new skills and meet new people in the process – that’s what I used it for!
— Judy

So that people can pursue a career and get on in life, at any stage of life.
— Sue

Because people might need opportunities later on. You might have missed out at school. You might need to change direction. If you cut funding you risk excluding the people who would benefit most from those opportunities. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to get those opportunities myself, and I think there should be more funding for more people to do the same, not less.
— Christine

You don’t stop learning when you leave school. That’s what I told my boys. In fact, you probably learn more, and want to learn more, as you get older. People need to be able to keep learning.
— Karen

So people can learn stuff, so that they can do stuff. Enough said, really!
— Dan

I improved the English grade I got at school thanks to adult education. I think it’s important for people to be able to feel that FE is there for them if they need it, because it really does change lives. In my role at NEC I hear from many people who may not have done well at school and need a second chance.
— Maria

Lifelong learning is essential to society. The world is changing at a rapid pace, people are working longer, technology is replacing more and more jobs and causing others to change beyond recognition. Without adults having the opportunity to learn and grow we won’t be able to keep up, and the economy will be under more and more strain.
— Carly

Most people think that education happens in a school or university and forget the vital role of FE in reaching places other forms of education cannot. For example, a mother returning to work, a young carer whose school age education was interrupted, or a middle aged man who needs to change career after a redundancy. We have a duty to all of these people and more, to help them be the best that they can be, and contribute to this country’s economic growth.
— Ros

Alan Tuckett, former NEC trustee and the man 'The Guardian' called 'the man who invented adult learning', makes the best case there is for adult learning: it makes financial sense because people who learn are healthier than those with idle minds and have more to contribute to their communities.(Click to read article.)
— Elizabeth

Friday, 20 March 2015

Celebrating biology: science you get hands-on with

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This week we are shining the spotlight on one of our most popular courses to study at IGCSE and A level, and sharing why we think it is such a compelling subject to learn about. From ecosystems and genetics to biotechnology and microbiology, the science of biology has inspired and fascinated millions of people through countless generations.

NEC is based in Cambridge, home to the University of Cambridge, which is renowned the world over for its research and academic endeavours in biological science and medicine. We are fortunate to have been able to enjoy the annual two-week-long Cambridge Science Festival, which is currently under way. The Festival offers the public a chance to explore and learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics through talks, debates, presentations, interactive demonstrations and hands-on activities.

NEC Biology Tutor Janet recently visited Cambridge for last weekend’s Festival events, and was delighted by how many of them focused on, or had links to, the subject for which she tutors. On returning from her inspirational day out, she described some of her favourite examples of biology in action: ‘Solar powered cars? Depends on photosynthesis. Light technology? Can be used to diagnose pain, injury and emotional states. In the Pharmacology department we fed water fleas (Daphnia) wine and nicotine and saw the effects on their heart rate. Core practical 1.1 AS Biology!’

Janet also recommends that anyone with an interest in biology and science in general try to get to Cambridge this coming weekend, when Festival events will continue. ‘The wonderful world of blood vessels, the science of eating, enlightened plants, do bees prefer plain or patterned flowers? (useful for farmers), the multiple faces of the brain are just a few of the tantalising topics to be explored further and confirmation that biology is an endlessly fascinating and far-reaching subject.’

The Cambridge Science Festival continues until 22nd March, so there is still time left to visit and plenty to see and do.

For those who might not be able to make it to Cambridge, NEC Biology Tutor Donal has an idea for a science event you can enjoy from closer to home. Titled ‘Finding Monsters in Your Garden’, this hands-on activity looks at how the early life cycle of the fictional creature from the Alien sci-fi films can also be found in a real animal that probably lives in your garden. But don’t worry, this animal is completely harmless to humans!

In fact, it’s a tiny kind of wasp. Brown in colour, it could be mistaken for a small fly. Like the alien, the wasp needs to lay its eggs in a living organism in order for its young to develop. Luckily, the wasp is looking not for humans but tiny green aphids. Donal explains how, once the wasp’s young are sufficiently developed, they will spin a silk cocoon and pupate into an adult: ‘Although the aphid is dead its outer skin is still intact and attached to the plant. The aphid is now said to be mummified (like an Egyptian Pharaoh!). After a few days a new adult wasp develops, bites its way out and flies away to look for more aphids.’

‘Since they are so small, the adult wasps can be difficult to see, but they are easy to find at the mummified stage. They stand out from other aphids because they look a bit fatter and they don’t move if they are disturbed. The silk used by the wasp can colour the aphid. Some are golden, others are black or brown. Some species of these wasps build their cocoon under the aphid body in a silken tent. Next time you see a colony of aphids, take a closer look and you might see some aphid mummies. If you don’t see any, take a piece of the plant home with some aphids on it and put it a vase of water. The mummies might appear in a few days. Good places to look for aphid colonies are roses, beans, thistles, nettles, knapweed, oak and sycamore.’

‘Happy monster hunting,’ Donal finishes. ‘Let us know if you find some!’

If engaging with biology for fun makes you consider taking your interest further, or if you were already thinking of formalising your curiosity about the subject, you could study for an IGCSE or A level in biology with NEC from the comfort of your own home. An IGCSE could be your first step towards a career in science; an A level could help you to gain the opportunity to study for a degree. One NEC learner whose future in science already looks bright is Kelly Chaplin, who was recently chosen to represent the Society of Biology at the annual Voice of the Future event at the House of Commons. Kelly is studying for an A level in Biology with NEC and plans to continue her studies at university level.

NEC courses cover many different topics, and can be studied flexibly at a time and place that suits you. NEC Biology Tutor Jennifer says many of her learners have talked to her about why they find our biology courses so intriguing to study: for example, they are impressed at how well-designed living organisms are – including human beings. ‘Studying biology, you will find out how we work on many levels – biological molecules, cells, tissues, organs and organ systems – to the whole organism and how we interact with the environment,’ she explains. ‘Since my earliest science lessons, biology has been my favourite because it tells us how living creatures work. There is an amazing diversity of life on Earth, yet we all share common features and processes; we must all consume and transform energy, and, we must all regulate our internal environment to maintain a stable and vital condition.’

To learn more about studying Biology with NEC, visit our website or get in touch and speak to our team, or find us on Twitter and Facebook. To learn more about the Cambridge Science Festival, visit their homepage, where you can also find a complete guide to what events are on offer this weekend.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Behind the scenes at NEC: Course Co-ordinator Stephanie

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NEC Course Co-ordinator Stephanie

Meet NEC Course Co-ordinator Stephanie, who looks after learners enrolled on our Early Years and Childcare, Supporting Teaching and Learning, and most recently Business and Management courses. Next week, it will be exactly one year since she first joined the team. This week, we’re reflecting on her experiences and giving you an insight into how she helps with the day to day operations that ensure NEC learners are supported during their studies.

In many ways, and for a number of years, Stephanie’s life has revolved around education. For five years she taught ESL (English as a Second or Foreign Language) in France to primary schools and in private classes, teaching both children and adults. After returning to the UK she started volunteering in her local school and then spent five years as a teaching assistant in a primary school. She later became a tutor of adults taking evening classes in Spanish.

Stephanie has also been on the other side of the fence during those years: as well as helping to support other students’ learning, she was also a student herself. When she returned to the UK she enrolled on a distance learning degree in French and Spanish with the Open University, and when she wasn’t tutoring adults or supporting pupils in schools she busied herself in her studies at home.

As if that wasn’t enough to fit into one day, she was also bringing up two teenage children at the same time. So how did she manage to juggle such a busy life?

‘The good thing about distance learning is that it’s very flexible,’ explains Stephanie. ‘Like being able to press pause and play on something. When studying at home, I could put it down quickly if I needed to do something else and come back to it when that was taken care of. I could go out to work and know I’d be able to get back to studying whenever I came home, without needing to rush off to classes that started at a set time.’

When her children grew older, Stephanie felt ready to commit to working full time. She knew she wanted to continue working in education, but unlike her previous roles she wanted something year-round that wouldn’t limit her to only being able to support learners during academic term times. She had known about NEC while living in France, and having been a distance learning student herself, the idea of helping others in circumstances she could relate to appealed to her. So she applied for a job.

‘When I found out I’d been accepted I was really excited about getting started,’ she says. ‘I hoped my experiences as both a tutor and a distance learning student would provide me with some insight into how I could better support NEC learners.’

Since she started, Stephanie has seen many of the learners she supports complete their courses. There’s always plenty for her to do and she works hard to make sure their studies go as smoothly as possible.

‘There are a lot of things we need to do to ensure the learner has every opportunity to succeed. For example, some of our Childcare and Early Years courses involve an assessment where the learner is observed working with the children in their workplace setting. This needs to be planned in advance and coordinated with both the tutor and the learner in their setting, taking into account things like upcoming school holidays when an assessment couldn’t take place. We also have some international learners, which adds an interesting element to the planning stage!’

‘Then there are things like making sure they’ve chosen their option units, checking their progress, registering them with the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE) or the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), and ordering certificates to be sent out once they’ve completed their course and gained their qualification.’ She smiles involuntarily when she mentions the certificates. ‘That’s always the best part,’ she explains.

‘Our learners often have to work especially hard to complete their courses. Many of them chose distance learning in the first place because their circumstances make it difficult to study any other way. Knowing what they’ve had to struggle through makes seeing them succeed all the more inspiring.’ Her smile widens. ‘There’s just something indescribably wonderful about witnessing that achievement.’

Stephanie’s own experiences as a distance learning student have meant the learning journeys of those she supports resonate particularly strongly with her. ‘I know what it’s like, and I also know that it’s possible to succeed, so I want to help them get there. To take that same journey and to have those same opportunities as I did. They’re trying to do something positive for their future and I want to support them.’

‘I also know that life happens and sometimes it can get in the way of studying, so part of what I do is to be here when learners get back from unplanned breaks and reassure them that it’s not too late to pick things up again. It’s not like a timetabled course where they might have missed lots of classes and need to catch up. They can just restart where they left off.’

‘Everyone studies at their own pace. Every learner’s journey is a little bit different. We have people from all walks of life studying with us and we’ve seen everything from new babies to moves abroad occur during the course of someone’s studies. Each of their stories is unique. It’s part of what I love about being here.’

To find out more about NEC’s courses and the team that supports our learners, 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. We can also be found on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.