Big Brother tests jobless via mobile

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The Independent Online

The government is to help educate the jobless by sending them quick-fire quizzes over their free mobile phones.

Unemployed people will be sent basic maths and English questions by text message to their mobiles or pagers - and urged to take a course if they cannot get the right answer.

The scheme is being pioneered by the Basic Skills Agency, the quango set up to cut the number of people who cannot read, write or do basic mathematics.

Puzzles will include simple daily tasks which are beyond millions of people. Questions will include putting a list of names into alphabetical order, working out a weekly wage or calculating an annual rent bill.

Officials will target the long-term unemployed, who are being given free mobiles and pagers as part of a Government drive to get them back to work.

Specially recruited personal advisers will send messages informing people of job vacancies as soon as they appear. But basic skills experts believe many unemployed people are hindered by poor reading and writing skills.

The agency already uses advertising to encourage people into college, but is experimenting with interactive television and telecommunications as a way of increasing the take-up of courses.

Estimates suggest that seven million people - one in five adults in England and Wales - are unable to read, write and use maths well enough to cope with modern life. Research carried out last year also showed strong links with unemployment.

One in four men with poor reading skills was unemployed compared with just 4 per cent of those whose reading and writing was good.

Other research found that around 30 per cent of those with poor reading and writing were out of work for a year or more.

Jim Pateman, deputy director of the Basic Skills Agency, said: "People need the basic skills of reading and writing today so they can use the technology of the future.

"Mobile phones are cheap and accessible and are more likely to be owned by people with poor basic skills than personal computers are.

"We need to use the technology that people already have to encourage them to learn and get jobs. We can't afford to wait until they access the internet."

Thousands of jobless people living in areas of high unemployment will be given the mobiles and pagers as part of the Government's employment action zone initiative announced last month.