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.
Civic literacy is the ability to understand the rules that organize our society, how those rules came to be, and how they can be changed. It is the understanding of history as the constant struggle of people to be seen, heard, and valued. In the not-too-distant past, civics education built the skills needed to develop informed opinions, hold decision-makers accountable, build community, and organize for change.
This aspect of education struggles to survive, however, as civics for adults has been legislated down to narrowly-defined citizenship education measured by economic outcomes. Yet civics is more relevant than ever, as there are civic questions and problems to address in every area of adult life. Rather than being siloed in a citizenship prep class civics questions could, for example, be part of the work readiness curriculum: What kinds of jobs do we want in our communities and who decides? What should we do to ensure living wages in the sectors that are creating the most jobs (retail, service, etc.)? Such questions would engage us in thinking about the system of work, not just preparing for it uncritically.
For 20 years, World Education has published resources that facilitate civic dialogue and offer a platform for varied perspectives and questioning voices. The most long-lasting has been The Change Agent magazine, and now website, where educators can find compelling student-authored materials and activities that build much-needed habits of mind. You can find it, and other civics resources, on our Civic Participation page.