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Specific Needs of Low-skilled Adults in Education

Based on the PIAAC survey from 2014/2015, there are almost 1/4 of adults in Europe who have problems with underdeveloped reading and writing, numeracy and digital skills. These skills are crucial for successful performance in modern professions and future occupations which will occur in connection with automation, robotisation and relocation of work. There is growing demand for critical and innovative thinking, entrepreneurial mind-set and creativity. In addition, these skills are also necessary for successful operation in everyday activities.

Therefore in the SkillUp Game project we focus on improving the writing, numeracy and digital skills of low-skilled adults, together with other four project partners from Slovenia, Lithuania, Ireland and Spain. It is necessary to mention that we don’t focus directly on the low-skilled adults, but we focus on the adult educators, who will learn the methodology how to use gamification in education.

In this article I will introduce our key results of the survey, which we have made to get to know the needs of the low-skilled adults in each of the 3 competencies, which will help us to design suitable training methods for them and choose relevant content. I believe that the data would be useful for all adult teachers who are working with similar target groups.

We have completed a survey among 150 low-skilled adults in all the partner’s countries. To sum up basic demographic data, 65% of the participants are women and most of the participants are in the age of 31-40 years. 47% of the participants are employed, while 52% are unemployed and 2 participants didn’t share their employment status.

First, let’s see what results we got about the language literacy. Those participants (29%), who are aware of their troubles with language, pointed out problems with spelling, writing, grammar, concentration, punctuation and lack of vocabulary. An important fact is that most of the participants (63%, and around 78% in Czech Republic and Ireland) never visit the library, so it is important we encourage people to do so, because it can help to improve their language skills.

In addition, 38% of the participants never read books. Most of the participants (73%) are listening to the radio or television very often, reading newspapers, letters and emails. When talking about mass media, we need to mention that it is very important that people are able to think critically about the content they read and hear and are able to verify the information. They should be able to recognize fake news, manipulation and shouldn’t be easily influenceable by advertisements and populistic election campaigns.

For the participants it is very important that they have a good teacher, who is dedicated and inspiring and is able to introduce the content in an interesting way. They would like to work more in groups, learning through practical cases and projects and new innovative methods. They like to have a good time during the lesson and enjoy interaction with schoolmates. On the other hand, they don’t like strict teachers, boring content, writing essays, tests and learning grammar. They want to improve language skills in order to grow culturally, to grow as a person and to acquire new skills to be able to express themselves. They would like to be more motivated to read, to participate and be involved in the education process. They would like to feel free during studying and be encouraged to tell their opinions. 

Let’s move to the basic numeracy skills. For the participants the problems that occured during their classes were: difficulty to understand tasks, to learn formulas and equations, to pay attention and understand math topics. It can be caused by poor or quick explanation from the teacher, as some students need more time to fully understand the topic.

Topics that were identified as most difficult, so we need to focus on them, were interpreting graphs, calculating interest rate and area of the room. Only 25% of the participants use mathematics in their job, so we need to encourage them to upskill during their free time at home, so they keep their brain active and healthy. In addition, 56% of the participants think that improving math skills would help them to get a new job, so we just need to motivate them and organize good courses for them.

In terms of the content of the lesson, they need it to be useful, practical and explained in an interesting way by a good, friendly and patient teacher who understands that math is really hard for some people. Some of them also like to compete in a class. They would appreciate modern methods involving more technology and solving real life problems.

As for the digital literacy, most of the participants (140) have mobile phones (don’t have to be smartphones), around 65% own a laptop or desktop computer and only 49% participants have tablets. Most of the participants (92%) are using some device to browse on the internet and 65% are buying things online. Most of them have an email account and know how to write and use email. Most of them (73%) have Facebook accounts. Other popular social media are YouTube and Instagram. Only 10% of the participants are using LinkedIn, which can be a useful tool for finding a job, so we need to educate them about positive aspects of it.

We have identified that only 28% of the participants are using computers on a daily basis, so we need to focus on upskilling them, especially those who are unemployed, so they would be more competent in the labor market.

Concerning the participants’ personal motivation to attend courses, they mostly enjoy interaction with other people, learning new and interesting things and using knowledge and skills in their lives. They don’t like being forced into doing something, they want to choose what to do or not to do, so they can have better control of their learning process. They are motivated if they see their progress and can feel they are successful.

Most of the time they enjoy working with others, but it depends on the situation. In general, interaction and socialising is a key factor in the education process. They also enjoy exploring the unknown and getting better in challenging tasks. 

As for their experience with games, they usually play traditional board games (chess, Uno, Sudoku, puzzle, cards, Tetris etc.). Only a few of them play pc games and some of them don’t like playing games at all. While playing games they value entertainment, competitiveness and social interaction (especially with their children). It makes them feel young and nostalgic. Game provides them fun experience, disconnection from daily problems and worries, and the possibility to de-stress and relax. While playing they feel happy, excited and enthusiastic when they manage to win or achieve the challenge. They also appreciate the design of the games - storylines, teamwork, graphic, colors, sound etc. 

Based on the results of the survey and based on our professional experience, we are persuaded that gamification is a suitable method for educating low-skill people. It provides an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in an interesting enjoyable way, in a mode of “I wish / I want” instead of “I must”. Gaming principles are enhancing internal motivation through engaging all the participants directly to the process and help them to stay focused for a longer time. They have fun, they are part of the group and don’t even know that they are learning something. The teacher is in the role of the facilitator of the process of the game and once it finishes they help the participants to think about what they did, what they learned through it, what went well or wrong and why, what they would do differently next time and how they can use it in their real lives. 

If you are interested in more information about this project, you can visit following websites:




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