/ga/file/basic-skills-adult-educatorsBasic Skills adult educators
EPALE Thematic Coordinator David Mallows reflects on how adult basic skills educators can make adult learning more inclusive.
Bridging the gap through adult basic skills education
Equality and inclusion are fundamental issues for all of those involved in the European Basic Skills Network. Many of us became involved in this area through a commitment to the idea of a fairer, more equal, society and a belief that adult basic skills education has an important role to play in addressing inequality and social exclusion. Research from the UK cohort studies, among others, has demonstrated strong correlations between poor basic skills and socio-economic disadvantage:
Those with the lowest levels of literacy, had a relatively disadvantaged home life in childhood, both economically and in terms of education levels and educational support offered by parents. More families of those with the lowest levels were the most likely of all to have experienced these forms of disadvantage.
While aware that correlation is not causation, it would be fair to assume that supporting adults to improve their basic skills (in order to engage in further learning, or adapt to changes at work or at home) will contribute to the narrowing of gaps between socio-economic groups; particularly if through that education experience participants also become more socially and culturally aware.
Practitioners have valuable input for outreach policies
To ensure that every adult is given equality of opportunity in terms of access to appropriate and personally valuable learning, we need, above all, political commitment. Nurturing that commitment and engaging stakeholders in sustainable, long-term partnerships is the task of EBSN and its members.
However, teachers do not often have the power to engage with and change the policies that govern the organisation of the adult education courses that they work on. They work within the confines of a system over which they have limited control and their voice is not heard frequently enough in discussions.
Teachers can provide insight into the learner groups that are hardest to reach – identifying them and, of course, supporting them in moving into learning. By listening carefully to their learners and understanding their needs, they can point out to management where learners are disadvantaged and advocate for change. Learner voice can help us to understand barriers to learning, such as childcare, or poor transport links, and to ensure that learning opportunities are effectively marketed to those who need them the most. Teachers and others involved in adult education are well placed to capture that knowledge.
Change starts in the classroom
But it is in their own classroom (or whatever the learning environment is) that teachers can have the most impact. Here individual teachers can do a lot to ensure that all of their learners are given access to the curriculum and a fair chance of success. These are simple things, such as ensuring that there are clear rules of conduct negotiated by the learners themselves, and then challenging any negative or discriminatory attitudes that are voiced. In their planning, teachers should reflect the diversity of the classroom – perhaps by identifying opportunities for learners to work collaboratively in diverse groups and above all, making sure that the different life experiences of learners are drawn upon in designing the curriculum and the activity of the group. This individual, tailored approach to the design of learning opportunities is fundamental to the creation of an inclusive classroom.
Teaching materials and assessment
The learning materials used are also of great importance: on a simple level, learning materials should not discriminate against any particular groups or present cultural stereotypes – learners should see themselves and their peers in the materials they use in class. This is often not the case with commercially produced materials aimed at a very broad market.
Of course, equality and inclusion are not just an issue of cultural identity. Teachers should make sure that they use a variety of teaching methods to ensure that the different ways in which people learn are recognised. They should also use a range of assessment methods to allow learners to demonstrate their learning. School-type assessments can be threatening for adults with negative previous experiences of education and teachers should consider whether traditional assessments in the form of essays or written tests are the fairest way to measure and understand learner progress. Above all, teachers should ensure that everyone feels that their contributions are valued and that requires the teacher to be proactive in establishing and maintaining an inclusive and supportive learning environment.
Equality and inclusion are, I am sure, fundamental issues for many of you reading this article, and I am equally sure that many of you share my belief that adult basic skills education has an important role to play in addressing inequality and social exclusion. We should remember that not only do we need more and better adult basic skills education to create a more inclusive society, we also need adult basic skills education to be as inclusive as it can be to achieve that.
We would like to invite you to join EPALE’s live discussion on how to ensure optimal inclusion in adult learning on the provision and policy levels. The discussion will be in English and will take place on this page on 22 March 2018. It will be moderated by EPALE Thematic Coordinator Simon Broek.
We hope to see you there!
David Mallows has 30 years of experience in adult education as a teacher, teacher trainer, manager and researcher. He was previously Director of Research at the National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy (NRDC) at the UCL Institute of Education, London and currently represents the European Basic Skills Network in EPALE as thematic coordinator for Life Skills.