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

09/08/2017
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.

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Lietotāja Martin Dobeš attēls

Thanks Gabriela for your reply. And I certainly agree we need a definition of literacy, especially for the sole purpuse of targeting national or regional strategies. That is why I wrote my question is a bit provocative.

 

We need a definition and we need to rethink the scale of literacy from different perspectives. The thing is we will have to do this re-thinking more often than before... :-)

Lietotāja Anna Pap attēls

Good evening Everyone!

 

My name is Anna Pap, I'm a PhD student in Hungary, in Institute of Education, Eötvös Loránd University. I studied Andragogy (it's about adult education in Hungary) and Special Education too, and now I work in the adult education as a training manager. My research topic is the learning disabilities and specific learning difficulties in vocational education.

Thank you for this interesting and rich discussion, it's really important and useful for me! I'm sorry about my late comment, I wanted to read every comments, but I can't. However I tried to follow the discussion as I can, and it's important for me to write my opinion.

 

I think we can not separate literacy and basic education, althought these terms are a little bit different. Yes, there are some kind of literacy, and literacy is important as reading and writing skills, and as a more complex skill.

For example administration... For an adult who have specific learning difficulties (dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.) is really difficult, is an exra difficult to fill in an official document.

Or English language... For example for me it's a hard work to write this comment, because I'm not so good at English. But English is a basic language, so if I can't speak this language, I will drop out a lot of information, useful discussions, etc.

 

So, I would like to say that literacy is a "capacity to use information for daily life" (thank you, Carlos this great definition!), but, in the other hand, literacy can be disadvantage, if a person don't have literacy well. Literacy is a key for lifelong learning and for the 8 key competences for the lifelong learning. 

 

But literacy is a big challenge for people with learning difficulties. What about for these people? In my opinion learning difficulties are important aspect of the literacy topic.

Lietotāja Graciela Sbertoli attēls

You make an important point, Anna. Dyslectic adults, for instance, are a minority in the target group of adults who need literacy training, but they prove the point that literacy is not the same as basic education. They can be highly successful and well trained people - but have enormous difficulties with the written word. This group can certainly benefit from being introduced to digital remedial tools (automating reading through synthetic speech or dictation/recording).

Lietotāja Jo Dixon attēls

Hello everyone,

I'm a PhD researcher with an interest in literacy and digital inclusion, and with a number of years as an adult literacy teacher (amongst other things) behind me. I know we want to focus here on (traditional) adult literacy not digital literacy, but I think digital could (should???) change how we conceptualise literacy.

Previous posts have mentioned different ways of conceptualising literacy - most commonly we think of it as meaning 'being able to read and write' but this is not the only way. If we think of literacy as meaning 'being able to make use of written text' or 'being able to extract meaning from and create written text' or something like this, then digital changes (will change? could change?) what the most important, foundational literacy skills are.  Others have talked about functional literacy and how different contexts make different demands on people's literacy. We most often hear how digital makes things more complicated and demands additional literacy skills. However, I think the opposite is also true... ***Watch out, controversial idea coming up!***

We usually assess a person as having a low literacy level if they have difficulties with the basic 'mechanical' skills - decoding and spelling words. In the UK adult literacy curriculum at least, there is a heavy focus on these skills at the lowest levels making it impossible to progress to higher levels where longer and more interesting texts and things like critical literacy, tone and register, persuasive language are explored.

Digital text can be read aloud by text-to-speech technology making it possible to understand and use text without deciphering all the words on the screen) and digital text can be created using voice input technology avoiding the need to know how to spell every word. Does (could? should?) this change what we think of as 'basic' literacy, or the emphasis and importance we place on different literacy skills?

Last year I worked with a gentleman who had not been able to pass Entry 1 (the lowest level in the UK adult literacy curriculum) because he has great difficulties with basic spelling and reading. However, when we used text-to-speech he could understand and use online texts way above his level and demonstrated some higher level critical literacy skills (confidently binning an email he judged to be spam, for example). Also, when he used voice input he could create sentences on the screen that were considerably more complex than the simple sentences required for Entry 1. 

If I had insisted that he try and try and try to develop his basic, mechanical literacy skills, which he had clearly been struggling to make any progress with for years, I would have been holding him back. By letting him use technology to compensate for his weaknesses, I was freeing him to focus on higher level skills and to progress more quickly to being functionally literate - in the digital world at least.   

Curious to get people's reactions...! :-)

 

 

Lietotāja Graciela Sbertoli attēls

Thank you so much for pointing at the core of the issue about definitions, Jo. I found the example you mentioned particularly interesting. The problem you faced was precisely due to the confusion I have been doing my best to dispel in this discusion: literacy should not be taken to mean basic education. The gentleman in your example had simply great difficulties with his reading and writing skills. He did not have any difficulty with thinking, understanding complex and abstract ideas, u nderstanding the world around him! Why indeed should he be stopped and kept in a level he did not belong to? That is why it is imperative that we distinguish between training aimed at automatizing the reading/writing process and a wider training in many other basic skills. 

Your gentleman may, by the way, have been dyslectic. Did you test him for that? For people with dyslexia the use of digital remedial tools is indeed very adequate. I thoroughly agree with you.

Adult learners come in all sizes and shapes. Some of them will need to get training in basic education. MANY need simply to get help with reading and writing skills so that they can easily access all both the further learning they would like to get working with and the qualifications they need. 

 

 

Lietotāja Jo Dixon attēls

Hi Graciela, thanks for your reply. I agree, the man in my example is probably dyslexic but has, like many other older adults and adult immigrants from developing countries, never had the opportunity to have the diagnosis that would perhaps have given him access to more appropriate support. In my experience, it is unusual, outside of full-time education and employment, to be able to get tested for dyslexia as an adult. 

But then, why should you need a diagnosis, a label, to be entitled to use assistive technologies? Many adult learners have undiagnosed and quite complex and varied reasons for their difficulties with literacy and need to invest a lot of time and effort to progress. Stuck at a low level, unable to read or write very meaningful real life texts, busy, stressed, tired... Is it inappropriate for them to use the technology that some disabled people rely on to compensate for their difficulties? Could it not perhaps help motivate them to engage more with texts and actually lead to improved skills? 

 

Lietotāja Bravo Nico attēls

Agradeço o seu comentário a sugestão que me faz.

Na realidade, esta discussão acerca da língua em que comunicamos colocou-nos num dos epicentros da discussão acerca da natureza do conceito de literacia. De facto, literacia é um conceito que gera, no seu ponto de partida conceptual e operacional, uma desigualdade entre quem domina e quem não domina um determinado conhecimento ou competência: de um lado, os que sabem; do outro lado, os que não sabem.

Podemos falar da literacia linguística (os que sabem e os que não sabem uma determinada língua), a literacia tecnológica (os que dominam e utilizam a tecnologia e os que não o fazem), a literacia económica (os que seguem um determinado modelo de gestão económica, nas suas vidas, e os que seguem outros modelos), a literacia artística (os que compreendem um determinado código cultural e os que que compreendem outros códigos), etc.

É aqui que nos encontramos, neste momento da nossa discussão, caros David e Graciela: quando é necessário um movimento dos participantes num processo educativo, para que se processe um diálogo construtivo, aquele que é obrigado a mover-se em direção ao outro é, normalmente, o que está mais afastado da cultura dominante: o que não fala inglês mas se expressa em português; o que não recorre às tecnologias digitais, mas conhece as técnicas mais ancestrais de comunicar e organizar a informação na sua memória; o que não entende a mensagem de Picasso, em Guernica, mas que expressa o que sente, através do artesanato que constrói, com as suas mãos; o que não consegue ler nem entender a partitura da Sinfonia do Mozart, mas que toca na banda filarmónica da sua comunidade...

Era aqui que eu desejava colocar a minha participação: na dimensão desigual e, perigosamente, discriminatória dos conceitos de literacia/iliteracia e de alfabetizado/analfabeto.

Espero que compreendam o conteúdo desta minha participação: ela inscreve-se no percurso científico, profissional e cívico de quem vive num território e numa comunidade onde existe um número muito significativo de concidadãos analfabetos e com os quais temos vindo a estabelecer um processo educativo que assenta num princípio essencial: somos todos iguais, nos conhecimentos e competências que temos, independentemente da natureza e formalização dos mesmos.

É deste ponto de partida que se constrói a Educação, na qual todos aprendemos uns com os outros.

Aqui fica o meu conteúdo, em inglês, como, educadamente, me sugeriu:

....

Thank you for your comment on the suggestion you make to me.

In fact, this discussion about the language in which we communicate has put us in one of the epicenters of the discussion about the nature of the concept of literacy. In fact, literacy is a concept that generates, at its conceptual and operational point of departure, an inequality between those who dominate and those who do not master a certain knowledge or competence: on the one hand, those who know; on the other side, those who do not know.

We can speak of linguistic literacy (those who know and those who do not know a certain language), technological literacy (those who dominate and use technology and those who do not), economic literacy (those who follow a particular management model economic, in their lives, and those who follow other models), artistic literacy (those who understand a certain cultural code and those who understand other codes), etc.

It is here that we find ourselves, at this point in our discussion, dear David and dear Graciela: when it is necessary for a movement of the participants in an educational process, for a constructive dialogue to take place, the one who is obliged to move towards the other is , usually what is further away from the dominant culture: what does not speak English but is expressed in Portuguese; which does not use digital technologies, but knows the more ancient techniques of communicating and organizing the information in its memory; who does not understand the message of Picasso in Guernica, but who expresses what he feels through the crafts he builds with his hands; who can not read or understand Mozart's Symphony score, but who plays in the Philharmonic band of his community ...

This was where I wished to place my participation: in the unequal and dangerously discriminatory dimension of the concepts of literacy / illiteracy and literate / illiterate.

I hope you will understand the content of my participation: it is part of the scientific, professional and civic journey of those living in a territory and a community where there are a significant number of illiterate fellow citizens and with whom we have been establishing an educational process that is based in an essential principle: we are all equal, in the knowledge and skills we have, regardless of the nature and formalization of them.

It is from this starting point that Education is built, in which we all learn from each other.

Here is my content, in English, as he politely suggested

 

 

Lietotāja Bravo Nico attēls

Compreendo a sua precupação, mas sugiro-lhe que recorra ao tradutor automático (disponível, nesta aplicação). Dessa forma, todos podemos comunicar e estabelecermos um diálogo, no qual cada um recorre à língua que escolher para partilhar as suas opiniões. Por outras palavras, o facto e eu escrever em português não a impede de me ler em inglês e vive-versa.

A língua portuguesa é a língua em que penso e escrevo. Tenho a certeza que consegue ler e compreender o que escrevo, tal como eu leio e compreendo o que a Graciela escreve em inglês. Esta possibilidade de comunicarmos, de forma multilinguística, é uma das evidências de uma literacia tecnológica inclusiva, respeitadora das diferenças e promotora da diversidade cultural.

 

 

Lietotāja David Mallows attēls

Caro Carlos,

Eu falo português e então posso entender sua mensagem sem recurso ao Google translate. No entanto, não falo as outras línguas de colegas aqui (como o Norueguese (?) de Graciela ou o Esloveno (?) de Estera. Por essa razão, foi tomada a decisão de estabelecer esta série de discussões usando somente a língua inglesa. Eu sei que você pensa e escreve em português , mas não seria melhor (e mais eficaz) para você também publicar um Google Translate versao de sua mensagem (ao lado do seu texto original comeo tenho feito aqui), para que todos os outros não precisem fazer isso? Uma viagem ao Google por você, contra muitos por seus leitores potenciais, parece-me ser a maneira educada de se envolver aqui.
Um abrazo
David

Dear Carlos,

I speak portuguese and so I can understand your message witout recourse to Google translate. However, I do not speak the other languages of colleagues here (such as Graciela's Norwegian or Estera's Slovenian. For that reason the decision was made in establishing this series of discussions that the language would be English. I know that you think and write in Portuguese, but wouldn't it be better (and more effective) for you to also post a Google Translate of your message (alongside your original text), so that everyone else doesn't have to do that? One trip to Google by you, against many by your potential readers, would seem to me to be the polite way to engage here. 
Best wishes
David

 

Lietotāja Branislav Frk attēls

Hello everyone,

really interesting discussion! I am Learning Designer focused on Learning technologies, online learning etc. In my projects, i have usually used design thinking methodology to develop bespoke and attractive learning and educational activities, courses, apps etc. My experiences from my creative work with various adult target groups is that "adult literacy", (to answer the main question What do we mean when we talk about 'adult literacy'?) besides basic skills, many forms of literacies (mentioned in other posts in this discussion), need some extension with (so called) "invention literacy". Invention literacy is (simply) ability to create, collaborate and innovate things and processes around us. In other words,  invention literacy can "unleash" creative potential of adults. Nice examples of possibilities and social and educational power of invention literacy can be found here https://www.ideo.org or e.g in this interesting blog https://medium.com/startup-grind/invention-literacy-5915a411e29d It will be great to hear/read your opinion, folks! :)