Adult literacy has been at the heart of World Education’s work since it was established in 1951 in India and founded the Literacy House upon the urging of Mohandas Gandhi. Sixty-four years later, while gains have been made in many parts of the world, the need for literacy education remains great: there are nearly 800 million adults and out-of-school youth in the world with limited or no literacy and numeracy. In the U.S., adults’ basic skills are falling behind those of other developed nations. For the first time, the skills of young adults are lower than those of their parents’ generation. At the same time, people need even more different types of literacies to move ahead in their lives than in 1951. World Education’s approach to literacy education and how we define it has evolved and expanded commensurate with the skills adults need to navigate systems, pursue opportunities, and address problems successfully in their personal lives, work, and communities.
To commemorate the Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, in this series of blog posts World Education/ U.S. staff share their views on what literacy means to us today and how we are helping to advance adult education in multiple ways. Our list is not comprehensive: there are not enough days in a week to feature all the types of literacy youth and adults need in today’s world! Please join the dialogue.
Reading and Writing
World Education has been deeply involved with the pedagogy of adult reading since its inception. During the organization’s first decades, from 1953 into the 1970s, staff pioneered the development of non-formal education practices in India, Bangladesh, and Thailand by insisting on a functional literacy focus—reading and writing to survive and thrive in everyday life, as opposed to the academic extremes of grammar drills and copying model texts. World Education’s first generation of trainers went on to train additional hundreds of native teachers around the globe.
Eventually, World Education brought its field-tested expertise to bear on adult education programs back home. After a decade of successful community-based and workplace education efforts, World Education partnered with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education to form the National Center for Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL), which produced several seminal studies on adult reading, student persistence, and income enhancement attributable to educational attainment. Among these, the Adult Reading Comprehension Study (ARCS) has proven to be seismic in impact on reading instruction in the adult literacy field. World Education created the Assessment Strategies and Reading Profiles website to capture and explain the extensive findings of the ARCS and provide links to related evidence-based resources. The main findings of the ARCS have also been formulated into an intensive national professional development project, the STudent Achievement in Reading (STAR) program. Our staff are certified trainers in STAR as well as the Learning to Achieve professional development initiative, which applies many of the same evidence-based practices extolled by STAR to the design of instruction in reading and writing for students with learning disabilities.
World Education’s semi-annual publication, The Change Agent, which provides collections of articles written by adult literacy students and teachers, has been enhanced to integrate evidence-based reading and writing practices. For example, care is taken to provide texts at a range of grade-level equivalents (GLEs) and the GLE for each article is indicated for teacher reference. These features allow teachers to use texts at the proper instructional level for each student and alleviate the paucity of leveled texts of interest in adult students. Finally, each text is accompanied by suggested classroom activities based on both evidence-based practices and the College and Career Readiness standards for reading and writing. In many ways, The Change Agent reflects our roots in grounding the teaching of reading and writing in the concerns of literacy learners and their communities as well as on the latest evidence from reading research. Today, as in the 1950s adults still need to be able to read “the word and the world.”