chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up home circle comment double-caret-left double-caret-right like like2 twitter epale-arrow-up text-bubble cloud stop caret-down caret-up caret-left caret-right file-text

EPALE - Elektroniczna platforma na rzecz uczenia się dorosłych w Europie


EPALE Discussion: Adult literacy – what skills do adults need and what makes for an effective policy?

by EPALE Moderator

/en/file/literacy-discussion-epale-ebsnLiteracy Discussion EPALE EBSN

Literacy Discussion EPALE EBSN


As part of EPALE’s September focus on adult literacy, we would like to hear your views on what literacy skills adults need and what the success factors are for an effective national policy in this field.

The discussion is open to everyone and will take place on this page between 4-7 September 2017. It will be moderated by EPALE’s Thematic Coordinator for Life Skills, David Mallows in collaboration with our partners from the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN). This is a very lively discussion which is taking place over several pages. To go to the second page click here.  To go directly to the third page of discussion click here. Please make sure that you have perused all the discussion.

Feel free to comment or share your opinion on any of the following questions:

What kind of literacy skills do adults need in Europe in 2017?

  • What do we mean when we talk about 'adult literacy'? How does literacy relate to other basic skills?
  • What is the place of literacy in the context of Upskilling Pathways?
  • What needs improvement in literacy teaching and learning?

What are the success criteria for effective national policy in this field?

  • What are the main challenges (in your context) in supporting adults to improve their literacy?
  • How can we ensure that adequate investment is made in adult literacy education?


**The discussion has now been closed. You can still browse and read the community's comments.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Epale SoundCloud Share on LinkedIn
Comments have been closed for this post.

Displaying 41 - 50 of 204
Ricarda Motschilnig's picture

Thanks so much, Graciela! Indeed, it is not my intention to complicate it even more! :)

Graciela Sbertoli's picture

Let's discuss it next time we medt!

Ros Bauer's picture

I saw a post making reference to the New London Group (have long been a fan) and now can't find it in the feed. Any ideas?


Graciela Sbertoli's picture

Hi, Ros! I've been trying to find it, but the discussion has become so lively that there are far too many postings... I'll keep on looking and I hope someone will be remember where that comment is. :-)

Kevin Morgan's picture


My name is Kevin Morgan and I work at ProLiteracy, a nonprofit organization based in Syracuse, New York. Our mission is to increase adult literacy rates in the United States where 36 million adults have low literacy skills as well as partner with other programs internationally to address the 800 million adults with low literacy rates worldwide.

What do we mean by adult literacy? We define "adult" as an adult who is 16 years old or older. Typically they fall into one of three groups. Adult basic education (low literacy level), Adult secondary education (higher literacy level but no high school degree) and ESL, varying degrees of literacy levels but english is a second language. Historically "literacy" has been defined as reading, writing and basic math skills. However that has broadened to now include Financial Literacy (the ability to budget, save, etc.), Health Literacy (the ability to interact with the healthcare system and live a healthy lifestyle), and Digital Literacy (the ability to interact with digital devices). In addition the concept of workforce training is more and more coming under the "literacy umbrella". Often times this education includes so called "soft skills" such as showing up to work on time, how to follow instructions, how to interact with a team, etc.

The main challenge in supporting adults who wish to improve their literacy skills is scaling the education resources. Both government and private funding is flat or declining and often targets childhood education only. We have 1000 member programs around the U.S., many are community based organizations that report a waiting list of adults seeking literacy education. The demand is there but resources are limited. We believe increasing adult literacy rates can positively impact social issues such as poverty, crime, job creation and civic participation. We recently published a white paper, The Case for Investment in Adult Basic Education, that showed increases in income for those adults who received at least 100 hours of instruction. David Mallows mentioned the PIAAC study in another thread, that study is also an execellent source of data.

vala valdimarsdottir's picture


I work for Mimir-Lifelong Learning Center (adult education) in Reykjavik Iceland. In my mind illiteracy is being unable to read or write properly the Latin alphabet. With an increasing number of immigrants / asylum seekers, more of our students need literacy tuition. Educational background is a factor that counts.  Those who have already learned reading & writing their mother tongue find it easier than those who have not. Since it takes a very long time to learn these skills we need many class hours, and this is expensive. We can only afford to run 1-2 courses a year and not everyone who wants to study can attend at the set days and hours. I would like to get more funding for literacy tuition in Iceland and also to get some volunteers helping out. We are not there yet, I am afraid...

Graciela Sbertoli's picture

Thank you for joining us, Kevin! Very happy to see that this discussion has trascended European borders. We now have contributors from the US and Australia!

Your comments reinforce my feeling that we need a new word for Reading and Writing skills... 


Martin Dobeš's picture

Hello everybody. It was nice to read all the posts - and there are really many of them. I myself feel more of a practician than a theory maker as for the past 10 years, I have been trying to find new approaches in human resources development and adult education in the Czech Republic. 

When I was going through all the comments, a rather provocative question occurred to me: What if there is no sense in searching for the right definition of literacy in a world that is changing so fast?

In prehistoric time, man was expected to perform activities like hunting, stone shaping, pottery making etc. in order to survive and be successful in the society. From the beginning of the 20th century, people who couldn´t read and write could not reach a certain level of education and further skills which casted them out of the skilled and successful society. In our time, we talk about applied or functional literacy as necessary for a man to successfully participate in a society. 

There have truly been constant changes in what was needed and expected from a man to live and develop in the world. But what is a phenomenon: these changes become so fast that the definition of is really needed from us to be able to perform is widening every year. This is why - at least in my humble opinion - many people come with new and new definitions and include areas like ecological literacy and so no to the wider context of basic adult literacy.

We might expect these discussion about what is literacy will become even wilder in the future. For a period of my life, I lived in countries like India, Pakistan, or the Middle East. I spoke to many young people who just finished their studies and they asked me about Europe and how much they want to go and find a job and live there. But even if they received higher education, their skills were different than skills which are usually expected here in the EU. I am not talking just about job relate skills, but also cultural and societal skills. Thus, the definition of what is basic for a man to be able to live a happy social and working life depends not only on historical period, but also on a country where he or she lives. 


This is why I named this post as “floating definitions”. Changes are so fast and our minds are sometimes too slow – at least the one of mine. But we can perhaps say there will be one skill which will be needed for everyone, regardless of age and future time: ability to learn.


I tried to rethink this theme in this blog /en/blog/literacy-skills-difference-between-now-and-then.


Thanks everybody for your posts...

Branislav Frk's picture

Hello Martin, 

perfect, the "floating definitions" is what we need in "liquid world" we living in! 

Graciela Sbertoli's picture

Thank you for your comments, Martin. You make some very valuable points, but I still think that it is important that we define what we mean by literacy in order to operationalize national strategies that can meet the needs of adults without adequate levels of functional literacy. 


Not having an adequate level of basic literacy does not mean that

- you are low-skilled (only quite probably low-qualified because you need a high level of literacy to pass exams)

- you lack basic education or the ability to understand the world around you.

Many adults with low levels of literacy (and here I am of course using the term in its most strict sense) are highly competent in their lives. But they face many challenges in a society?working life that is constantly increasing its reliance on the written word.

I guess we will have to continue this discussion beyond the end of this day. :-)