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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



Chapter 2 on Family literacy in the EU and beyond

by Ann Hegarty
Language: EN

This chapter aims to give an overview of the diverse approaches to policy relating to FL across the EU. Before considering EU policy, and to further contextualise this section of the OER, the chapter opens with a glance at UN FL policy. The chapter then turns towards related EU overarching policy frameworks and finally we drill down into the policy approaches within two EU Member States: Luxembourg and Ireland. These countries were chosen for their contrasting policy efforts, one which takes a whole of government approach and the other which situates FL policies across a range of childhood, educational and social inclusion policies. The chapter also provides links to a range of relevant policy documents in a number of other EU countries and concludes with some reflection prompts.


United Nations 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals 

Whilst there is a lack of discrete policy relating to FL across the EU a robust policy backdrop is to be found in the United Nations 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The ambitious SDGs, espouse a strong commitment to FL as a means of combating disadvantage, inequality and social exclusion through an intergenerational approach to FL (UNESCO, 2017).

At first glance, the most obvious SDG related to FL is SDG4. This goal requires countries to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. SDG4 sets a range of targets to be achieved by 2030 including the following targets which are related to the goals of FL.


Source from: UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals.


  • 4.1 aims to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education
  • 4.2 seeks to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
  • 4.5 eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  • 4.6 ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.



Source from: UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals.


The integrated and embedded nature of FL across many areas of life becomes apparent when the entirety of the SDGs are forensically examined through a literacy lens which views literacy as socially situated. For policymakers, such an enquiry brings to light the often overlooked possibilities of FL and its transformational role in disrupting intergenerational patterns of educational disadvantage. From such a perspective, FL can be seen to be critical to the achievement of the full spectrum of the SDGs.


EU policy context

There is no one EU wide FL policy. Rather, FL has a number of related but diverse policy homes. Policies focus sometimes on adults and sometimes on children and are located within the fields of adult basic skills, adult basic education, lifelong learning, childhood education and other sectoral policies for social inclusion. Such fragmentation across a range of policy domains highlights a need for a more robust and strategic approach to FL policy making in the EU. A unifying and sustainable European FL structure could provide a vision for Member States where a generic policy would be regionally and locally interpreted. This in turn would provide guidance for locally responsive and integrated implementation strategies. Such a strategy would afford an opportunity to further strengthen the effectiveness of FL interventions and have the potential to impact on the literacy development and lifelong learning trajectory of adults and children across the EU.


Related European policies

Education and Training 2020

In a European context ET2020 (Education and Training 2020) relates closely to FL in that it has social as well as economic goals (European Commission, 2013). The common strategic framework sets targets for a range of areas in the Inclusive Education strand including basic skills, early childhood education and participation in lifelong learning.

European Pillar of Social Rights

More recently, the EU accord on the European Pillar of Social Rights was unanimously agreed by the EU-28 in 2017. Member States have set an agenda for implementing new and more effective citizens’ rights in equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. Progress on the Social Pillar is tracked by an online scoreboard and includes measures for education, skills and lifelong learning. Under the EU Pillar of Social Rights, children from disadvantaged backgrounds have the right to specific measures to enhance their chances of equality and their quality of early childhood care. The Social Pillar is concerned with the impact of public policy on reducing poverty in each Member State and as such has relevance for the underpinning ethos as well as the immediate goals of FL.



Case studies from Europe



It could be argued that the absence of one unifying FL policy framework across the EU signifies the integrated and socially situated nature of FL. Family literacy processes and practices are already interwoven in family and community life and as such go unremarked. In such a context FL can be overlooked by policy makers until such times as International Literacy Assessments are published. The focus then is again targeted at raising levels of literacy skills across continents and FL is brought in from the margins.

Family literacy includes programmes and interventions which aim to support the development of literacy confident individuals, families and communities. It can be viewed as a foundation stone of engagement in lifelong learning, which is a key goal of the EU and of Upskilling Pathways. Furthermore Luxembourg’s whole of Government approach to the implementation of an integrated policy provides a useful and adaptable model for the development of an EU wide sustainable FL policy framework. This would go some way to addressing persistent challenges of educational disadvantage, inequality and exclusion and contribute to a more literacy robust EU.



Prompts for reflection
  • What do you know about your country’s FL polices?
  • What do you imagine would be the advantages of an EU wide policy to support the proliferation of FL across the EU Member States?
  • In your opinion what might be the downsides to such a policy?
  • How does FL contribute to the objectives of UP recommendations?

Recommendations for further relevant resources are welcome in the comment section below!



The Capacity Building Series of EBSN provides free open educational resources (OERs) and massive online courses (MOOCs) through EPALE, to help the implementation of the European Commission recommendations on Upskilling pathways in EU Member States. EPALE is funded by the Erasmus+ programme, as part the European Commission’s ongoing commitment to improving the quality of adult learning provision in Europe. The project is implemented with the support of the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).



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