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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Literacy and the Upskilling Pathways initiative

by Andrew McCoshan
Language: EN
Document available also in: FR HU HR PL

/en/file/literacy-and-upskilling-pathwaysLiteracy and Upskilling Pathways

Literacy and Upskilling Pathways

EPALE Thematic Coordinator, Andrew McCoshan, takes a look at the questions we need to consider when we think about literacy in the context of the EU Upskilling Pathways initiative.

Low levels of literacy are one of the major basic skills that the EU's Upskilling Pathways initiative has been designed to address. It is therefore worth thinking about what literacy means across the different components of the programme.

The Upskilling Pathway "model" envisages three main stages:

  • an initial assessment of an individual's skills;
  • the tailoring of the learning offer to their needs; and
  • a final process to validate the new skills they have acquired.

And we should also consider progression, since the initiative intends that provision should be linked to qualifications at level 3 and 4 on the European Qualifications Framework (EQF).

Skills assessment

Upskilling Pathways begins with an assessment of skills but prior to that practitioners will need to consider how to recruit people with low levels of literacy onto the programme. Of course this is not always easy. Paradoxically, low literacy is in some ways quite transparent but also often hidden owing to the social stigma attached, as David Mallows has pointed out. Recruiting people onto Upskilling Pathways may not be easy. Often, this issue is described in terms of motivation, but this is a difficult word. Motivation is a complex issue. People will weigh up, consciously or not, the costs and benefits of learning, and in this case the shame of not reading and writing well may feature prominently on the cost side and be difficult to tackle.


Learning offer

The Upskilling Pathways initiative foresees the assembly of packages of learning and support to learners built around their needs. Many people with low literacy levels are likely to have negative memories of formal education, and so combinations of learning in different settings, including non-formal, ones might be necessary. Going one step further, and to help tackle the social stigma issues, we might envisage hidden learning or "learning by stealth" in which literacy education is embedded in learning with different goals. For instance, learning could be built around vocational skills but contain a large literacy element.



It is important that participants in Upskilling Pathways receive recognition for the skills they have acquired. Currently, validation processes that make this happen are at different stages of development across Europe, as Cedefop has pointed out. Often validation is quite well developed for vocational skills and so it may be possible to integrate literacy into such existing arrangements.



Low literacy for some people will make the linkage to qualifications at levels 3 and 4 on the EQF beyond their reach. In these cases, small "stepping stone" learning opportunities and qualifications made up of achievable modules may be needed, that give access to level 3 and level 4 qualifications. Such a modular approach can also give participants confidence to carry on learning beyond the Upskilling Pathways experience.

 Tackling literacy across the different stages of the Upskilling Pathways model is likely to need engagement at an individual level and in potential participants' social, community and work contexts. This will need approaches that bring together and integrate expertise and resources from a wide range of organisations, some of which may never have worked together before. Though this may be challenging, Upskilling Pathways provide an important opportunity, in some cases the first opportunity, to make this happen.

Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently an independent researcher and consultant, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.

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