This new report from NCVER shows that regionally-based community Ed providers deliver more foundation skills training than other training providers in regional areas.

This training can have a significant impact on an individual’s social and human capital, including improving students’ levels of self-confidence and feelings of self-worth as well as developing important soft skills.

Good outcomes for students

Training providers, including those in rural and regional Australia, have an important role to play in helping adults develop their foundation skills. According to the report, these skills include English language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills such as “listening, speaking, reading, writing, digital literacy and use of mathematical ideas” as well as employability skills, like “collaboration, problem-solving, self-management, learning to learn, and information and communication technology (ICT) skills required for participation in modern workplaces and contemporary life.”

The report, by NCVER’s Lisel O’Dwyer and Mandy Mihelic, “investigates the contribution community education providers make to foundation skills training in regional Australia, the models of delivery which seemed to work best, and whether the undertaking of foundation skills training helps build social and human capital of the individual and broader community.”

These regional Community Ed. providers are generally small, but just over 83% have enrolments in foundational skills subjects in 2019 (contrasting with 72% in other regionally based providers), and enrolments in employability skills subjects outweigh those in LLN subjects, the report found. It also points out that their students tend to be more disadvantaged as well, with low incomes, few skills, and low levels of LLN skills with little confidence in their abilities and job prospects. However, and despite the challenges they face in terms of being able to access transport to attend training, using the internet and accessing childcare, completion rates for these subjects are higher than for other regional providers.

Generally, however, these providers are not able to get a handle on the broader social impact of their foundation skills training because they lack the resources, time, and the means to follow up students after they have completed. Having said that, though, Community Ed providers in small regional centres “are often better able to use word-of-mouth and informal contact with former students to track outcomes.”

The providers report that “most individual students experienced at least some improvement in their human capital,” and:

“In addition to developing practical LLN and employability skills, providers report improved self-confidence and self-worth for most students, attributes that form the basis for greater community engagement and social interaction.”

These are important steps on the pathway to further study or employment. In fact, two-thirds of regional community education providers who were able to track outcomes said that at least half of their students went down one of these paths, and this is better than that achieved by metropolitan providers, the study found.

One of the more interesting chapters in the report profiles the student group and focuses on what works in the delivery of foundation skills in regional areas. Class-based, face-to-face teaching was the standard mode of delivery for foundation skills because online delivery is generally not suitable for foundation skills training, especially in LLN, and:

“Trainers accommodated personal learning styles, identified by informal conversations, or by observing student attitudes and behaviours. They used a variety of teaching devices, including written exercises, visual activities, observations, role plays, practical exercises, and hands-on activities. Almost all interviewees commented that relevant hands-on activities were most popular with students, and most were not interested in book and pen tasks.”

However, the report notes that “uncertainty about future funding, planning using relatively short timeframes and fluctuations in student numbers adversely impact delivery.”

In addition to the report, there is a support document. It provides an overview of foundation skills policies and funding.