Onward to the next million!

“Most of us take for granted using the internet to stay in touch with friends and family, find a new job or order shopping. That’s why it is fantastic news that UK online centres have helped more than one million people to access the web. Digital skills change people’s lives for the better helping them to feel part of a modern society” said John Hayes MP, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, today in a heart warming speech he gave to a small group of UK online centres learners, volunteers and staff.

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It really is the best bit of my job talking to learners whose lives have been given a massive lift because of digital technologies. Vicky from Cambridgeshire was with us in Westminster today and told John Hayes and me her story. Having left school without any GCSEs and little confidence in her literacy skills and after her children started school themselves she began attending UK online centre sessions at her local pub and hasn’t looked back since. In fact she volunteers twice a week at The George in March to make sure other local people get the digital skills they need.

Helping one million people learn the digital skills they need to use the web may have been one of our biggest achievements to date, but we’re always looking forward to the next big thing. That’s why John Hayes today announced Online Centres Foundation’s role in leading an exciting new eReading Rooms pilot project.

The eReading Rooms project is a six month piece of action research testing the concept of community locations offering access to a wide range of informal learning through technology. It could be on laptops or it might be tablets, smartphones and e-readers. Anything that makes it easier for people to learn more about what interests them, whether that be gardening, parenting skills or their own family trees, or even getting a bit better at spelling or understanding household budgeting.

I’m excited about this initiative as it has the potential to dramatically increase the numbers of adults engaging in learning, particularly people who didn’t have a great time with education the first time round or who haven’t been interested in learning since leaving school (and that might be 50 years ago). We’ll have twenty UK online centres involved in this research programme and I’m confident that we can show the positive effect that access to technology and informal learning can have on both communities and individuals. We’ve seen it time and time again in learners like Vicky – people who don’t think learning is for them and then end up going on to do more and more.

Today’s celebration marked one million success stories like Vicky’s and I’m really looking forward to hearing many similar stories in the future. With projects like the eReading Room pilot we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

Wth over 20 million more still lacking the basic skills to use computers and the internet, we need to remember we have a long way to go but the Skills Minister is positive, saying: “This million represents extraordinary progress and I’d like to say thank you to everyone that made this progress possible. Now lets go for the next frontier, the more distant horizon and use this progress as a springboard to get there.”

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