[AAACE-NLA] Are high literacy and numeracy skills the key to a strong economy?
joyconte at yahoo.com
Fri Nov 12 18:52:57 EST 2010
I find this information uncomfortable. I teach Developmental Studies, English,
and On Course, a course designed to teach success and study skills, at a
community college. Literacy and numeracy skills, in my mind at least, make us
human. As our scores on these skills drop, I worry about our American society
and what it may or may not be like at the turn of the next century.
However, even in ancient Egypt people worried about such things, too.
From: David Rosen <DJRosen at theworld.com>
To: National Literacy Advocacy List sponsored by AAACE
<aaace-nla at lists.literacytent.org>
Sent: Thu, November 11, 2010 7:48:05 PM
Subject: [AAACE-NLA] Are high literacy and numeracy skills the key to a strong
As is often the case, Tom Sticht has got me thinking.
It looks like the U.S. economy, regardless of which economic analysis I read, is
going to be in trouble for some time. Some economists believe we will crawl back
to a strong economy and again achieve high employment. Some believe that, given
world competition, we may not. Economists and others observe that not only
manufacturing jobs have been disappearing (shipped overseas to low-wage
economies, and also automated in the U.S.) but that now many college-educated
professional jobs are being outsourced, too. One of our economic strengths,
according to our President today, is that our country is _the_ consumer nation
to be reckoned with. Being a strong consumer nation does not reassure me that we
have a strong economic future. We need to make some changes.
Here's something to think about:
The world's (no longer first, now second -- after China) exporting country is a
modern, industrialized nation known for its high rate of employment and good
labor benefits. It has a social market economy. The country has developed a very
high standard of living and a comprehensive system of social security. Most of
the country's export products are in engineering, especially in machinery,
automobiles, chemical goods and metals. It is the world's leading producer of
wind turbines and solar power technology. Education at all levels, including
vocational education, is a high priority.
That country is Germany.
A couple of key questions that occur to me:
1. What can we learn from the German economic model that we can use to put more
Americans to work, and in better jobs? What can we learn to make our country
more competitive in the world market?
2. As adult educators we might wonder how Germany did on the International Adult
Literacy Survey (IALS)? Was having a highly literate workforce an essential part
of the model?
Apparently the answer to the second question is that the IALS results do not
clearly show that having higher literacy and numeracy rates is essential,
although it may be noteworthy that Germany outperformed the U.S. on document and
quantitative scales, if these measure more work-contextualized basic skills.
(See results below. Emphasis mine.)
Results from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), which measured
proficiency on 3 scales (prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative
• Between 19 and 23 percent of U.S. adults performed at levels 4 and 5, the
highest levels, on the three literacy scales. On all three scales, only Sweden
had higher percentages of their adults at these levels.
• Nearly one-third of adults in the United States demonstrate level 3 skills
across all three scales, while approximately one-fourth of American adults
possess level 2 skills across the three scales.
• Between 21 and 24 percent of U.S. adults performed at level 1, the lowest
level, on the three literacy scales.
• On average, the United States outperformed 2 nations (German-speaking
Switzerland and Poland) on the prose scale, performed similarly to 7 nations
(Canada, Germany, Australia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland and
French-speaking Switzerland), and was outperformed by 3 nations (Sweden,
Netherlands and New Zealand).
• On both the document and quantitative scales, the United States outperformed
one nation (Poland), performed similarly to 8 nations (Canada, Belgium,
French-speaking Switzerland, Australia, German-speaking Switzerland, New
Zealand, United Kingdom and Ireland), and was outperformed by 3 nations
(Sweden, Netherlands and Germany).
• The United States is similar to Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom
with regard to the distribution of literacy skills across levels 1, 2 and 3. At
level 4/5, however, Canada has a greater percentage of people than the United
States on the prose scale; New Zealand has a higher percentage than the United
States on the document scale; and the United Kingdom has a higher percentage of
its adults than the United States on the quantitative scale.
• In terms of literacy skills and employment status, 59 percent of U.S. adults
at level 1 on the document literacy scale were employed at the time of the
study. This percentage was not significantly different from the percentage at
level 2 (71 percent), but significantly lower than those at levels 3 (77
percent) and 4/5 (82 percent).
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.
Adult Literacy: An International Perspective, Working Paper No. 97-33 , by
Marilyn Binkley, Nancy Matheson, and Trevor Williams. Washington, DC: 1997.
Reference for the above information on the IALS:
David J. Rosen
Adult Literacy Advocate
DJRosen at theworld.com
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