by Timm Helten
The original language of the article is German
Since 2011, thanks to the leo. – Level One Study from the University of Hamburg, reliable figures have been available concerning the extent of functional illiteracy in Germany. According to the study, more than seven million adults in Germany lack sufficient ability in reading and writing, and one in seven adults has great difficulties coping with tasks involving written language. More than half of these are in employment. This means that functional illiteracy is not a problem restricted to the fringes of society. These clear findings have led organisations involved in politics and society to join forces in pushing for a reduction in functional illiteracy among the population and raising the level of basic education.
Reducing functional illiteracy and raising the level of basic education among adults
Due to the rapid pace of development and digitalisation in all areas of life, literacy and basic education are and will remain basic requirements for a life that is self-determined and characterised by participation. Beyond the ability to read and write, numeracy, computer literacy, health literacy, financial literacy and social literacy are important areas requiring improvement among adults in Germany.
Education in Germany is federally organised. In the “National Decade for Literacy and Basic Education”, the Federal Government, all 16 federal states and numerous, socially important organisations such as the German Adult Education Association, the Evangelical and Catholic Church, and the German Trade Union Confederation have come together. By joining forces, the goal is to reduce functional illiteracy and increase the level of basic education by the year 2026. The initiative was preceded by the “National Strategy for Literacy and Basic Education of Adults 2012–2016”. The partners of this national strategy conducted a review after their three years of work and were in full agreement regarding the continued importance of supporting literacy and basic education within the context of life-long learning.
Creating sustainable structures
The partners’ work to date has helped to spread awareness of the topic of literacy and basic education and embed it on a national, regional and local level. An important component of this strategy was the “Workplace-oriented Literacy and Basic Education of Adults”, which as a key development area was funded to the amount of around 20 million euros. The 54 projects, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), had the aim of encouraging organisations on the labour market to get more involved in the topic of literacy and basic education. Work-related learning offers and concepts connected to literacy and basic education have proved to be worthwhile approaches in supporting adults with low-level written language skills. In the federal states, coordination points for literacy and regional basic education centres have been set up, while additional ESF-means have been made available to finance the courses offered.
The task now is to transfer, consolidate and build on what has been achieved, to strengthen networks and cooperation and develop new initiatives. With a full decade to build upon the work to date, the respective partners have made clear, via a joint policy paper (General Agreement on the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Skills), their wish to expand the areas of action and attract additional partners.
The coordination point set up by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research functions as an office for the initiative and is located at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). Its task is to ensure a synergetic and coordinated approach from the Federal Government, the federal states and other partners.
Cross-cutting topic: literacy and basic education
The starting point for all of the decade’s initiatives and measures is the shared conviction that literacy and basic education are essential requirements for a self-determined life, for life-long learning, as well as for participation in society and employment. For this reason literacy and basic education must be promoted in all areas of life. At the same time, increasing the participation of adults with low-level basic education skills in continuing education is a key challenge when it comes to putting the decade’s plans into action.
In a work programme five fields of action were defined.
1. Public relations – intensify, inform, generate demand
2. Research – set up, consolidate, produce knowledge
3. Learning offers – optimise, extend, disseminate
4. Professionalisation – qualify, continue to educate, improve the quality of lessons
5. Structures – create, continue to develop, optimise supporting measures
Each year a new area of focus
The work programme will be updated each year in light of new developments in education policy and insights gained from international workshops with experts, from conferences and from studies.
At present, projects are being supported which particularly focus on topics and target groups closely linked to the labour market and which aim at the transfer of proven models of work-related literacy and basic education.
One key development area in the support for family- and everyday life-oriented development plans has just been announced and is being funded by the Federal Government to the tune of 15 million euros. Attention here is focussed on innovative concepts, models and measures related to adult literacy and basic education whose approach is based on outreach and relevance to everyday life. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research, together with the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, will enable 550 multi-generational houses in Germany to offer low-level education and advisory services for adults in need of basic education.
In order for prejudices and taboos to be dismantled and an interest in learning to be awoken, it is necessary to raise awareness among the public, those affected by these issues, and their immediate environment. Thus public relations work is a common theme running through all the above-mentioned areas of action. The BMBF campaign, “Reading and Writing—My Key to the World”, which has been running since 2012, makes effective use of the media via TV and radio ads, posters and the internet, to inform the public about specific advisory services and the phenomenon of functional illiteracy.
In total, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has made 180 million euros available for the implementation of the decade.
Obtain new reliable figures and insights
To update the results of the leo.–Level One Study from 2011/12 and gain new insights, it will be repeated in 2017/18. The focus will not just be on an increase in literacy, but will be expanded to include other areas of basic education. The findings will be taken into account in the announcement of future programmes in aid of literacy and basic education and in the optimisation of existing offers.
Additional information (German language)
Timm Helten is a research assistant at the Coordination Point for the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Education. This is located at the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) in Bonn.