31.05.2013 REPORTS

Convincing policy-makers of the importance of basic skills

One in five 15-year-olds, as well as nearly 75 million adults, lack basic reading and writing skills, states the EU High Level group of experts on literacy´s final report. At the time when the European Union commits to ensuring basic education for every child by 2030, the European Basic Skills Network organised, together with the Spanish Ministry of Education, its Annual Conference in Madrid, from the 23-26th of May.

"Developing partnerships for basic skills training beyond the classroom" was the topic of this three-day conference. One of the key questions tackled at the conference was: "how to convince policy-makers to invest in adult education?" Several good practice examples were presented to show how adult education can be carried out throughout different partnerships.

From evidence to policy-making

How to transform the evidence gathered into arguments to convince policy-makers to invest in adult education? Some elements of answers were given by the Canadian consultant, Dr Satya Brink.

"Adult education requires government action because it is of national importance for economic prosperity and well-being. Adult education impacts the whole population and other key issues as health or standard of living," she said.

Dr Brink also pointed out that raising awareness is central when convincing policy makers.

"There needs to be a critical mass of support for the issue to convince politicians; then, and only then, politicians start to pay attention."

A good awareness raising campaign therefore does not mean to send one letter to policy-makers; it means that many people send letters to them pointing out the same issue.

"Literacy correlates with employment"

In Canada, literacy has a strong independent effect on earnings, over and above the impact of years of schooling and years of experience.

"People with low literacy are three times more likely to be living in a low income households; failure to ensure skills growth brings to lower economic growth," Satya Brink told.

The argument to bring to policy-makers is very clear.

"Literacy is highly correlated with labour market outcomes of individuals and economic growth of countries," said Dr Brink.

Basic skills education is therefore a basis to ensure economic growth; with higher salaries come higher taxes that the State collects. Return on investment is therefore directly guaranteed.

Beyond the classroom, these adult education classes take place in several places. The idea of developing them at the workplace during working hours was developed by several presenters.

Adult education providers and employers as partners

Adult education can take place at the workplace during the work hours.

"Bringing learning to the place where people already are, like workplaces or community venues, is a key for success," explains John Benseman, a researcher from New Zealand.

Judith Swift from Unionlearn explained that employer support is very important and can be translated into time off to learn, provision of premises as learning centers or rooms as well as learning agreements with unions.

"The approval of peers, colleagues and of the hierarchy has proven to be a strong incentive for adults to learn."

It is also crucial to bring a positive message to the learners.

"Trainers are often former basic skills learners themselves and understand the barriers and issues very well. In the UK, the work from Union trainers is approved and accredited; they receive recognition by the government inspectorate for it, Ms Swift concluded."

Projects on basic skills

  • BASKET - Professional Development of Basic Skills Trainers: The project allowed participants to exchange knowledge, experience, insight and practical models related to the professional development of basic skills teachers and to discuss future possible policies on how to train adult educators
  • Eur-AlphaThe project fosters active citizenship where basic skills learners came together to share, gather and discuss good literacy and numeracy practices. After participating in the project, learners interfered more than they did before -they had become active citizens.
  • Reading Circles as Adult Literacy Education: Reading circles can be a great form of literacy education, suggests this research project. As the learners are centered around a written text, reading takes place in a non-hierarchical way, involving turn-taking. Circles are collaborative, involve peer teaching and learning and are based on discussion; they are therefore a particularly form of "ideal andragogy".

More information

The presentation slides are available on the conference website.

Text: Tania Berman