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.
There are nearly 22 million immigrants and refugees in the U.S. who speak limited English and could benefit from English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction. For the two million or so of them who are fortunate to get a seat in an adult ESOL program every year, these programs are a gateway to navigating life in their new home country. As such, adult ESOL programs are important agents of immigrant integration, but that potential needs to be nurtured.
Immigrant integration offers a broader framework for ESOL instruction than a singular focus on learning the English language. The White House Task Force on New Americans defines immigrant integration as a two-way process in which immigrants and the receiving society work together to build secure, vibrant, and cohesive communities. The Administration has identified three integration pillars — civic, economic, and linguistic. The linguistic pillar is our “cup of tea” in adult ESOL, and the other two provide context for the instruction. In adult education, economic integration takes the form of college and career readiness and employment services that help adults prepare and search for jobs. In our context, civic integration is often interpreted as citizenship instruction with referrals to naturalization services, but we all know that citizenship does not naturally engender civic engagement or integration.
Promoting immigrants’ sense of belonging and connectedness to other community members and institutions is another important facet of contemporary ESOL programming focused on immigrant integration. Increasingly, adult ESOL programs are joining the national welcoming movement spearheaded by Welcoming America, where communities make intentional efforts to form bonds between the receiving community members and immigrants.
In Central Valley, CA, for example, the Fresno Adult School that coordinates the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Network organizes a weeklong series of welcoming activities. This year, their efforts were focused on connecting ESOL and US-born students across their 16 classes and ABE, high school equivalency and job training programs through common readings and pen pal activities.
The Central Valley Immigrant Integration Network is one of five local networks that are part of a national initiative, Networks for Integrating New Americans that World Education is proud to lead with its partners, Welcoming America, IMPRINT, and the National Partnership for New Americans with support from the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. The other four networks are located in Providence, RI, Boise, ID, Lancaster, PA, and White Center, WA. A key design feature of the initiative is to position adult ESOL programs in a central role in these local networks that we and our partners support through coaching and technical assistance. We will host a national webinar in February and will publish two papers about the lessons learned and promising practices in spring 2016. Stay tuned!