[NLA] Adult Education in the US and UK
tsticht at aznet.net
Mon Dec 10 12:12:20 EST 2001
Adult Education in the US and UK
I have just returned from a week in the United Kingdom where I went to
help the governments of the UK, Wales and the Basic Skills Agency of
the UK launch the new Wales Literacy Initiative.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Board
of Directors of the Basic Skills Agency, chaired by Lord Moser, who
directed the study group that produced the ground breaking Fresh Start
adult basic skills policy paper a couple of years ago. Alan Wells, the
Director of the Basic Skills Agency was there, and Susan Pember, the
Director of the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit in the Department for
Education and Skills attended the meeting.
What was so overwhelmingly impressive in the reports given at the
meeting and elsewhere was the huge effort being made by the UK
government to increase the access, quality, and quantity of services for
adult basic skills education. Unlike the depressing state of affairs in
the United States, where the last three years have witnessed a 1.2
million decrease in enrollments in the Adult Education and Literacy
System (AELS) of the United States, and the present prospects for AELS
funding seem bleak, the UK has put large amounts of money into adult
basic skills services and initiated large scale efforts involving print
and broadcast media to create awareness of the availability of basic
skills programs and to motivate adults to look into improving their
literacy and numeracy skills. And they are doing all this while also
participating in a large way in the international war on terrorism.
In Wales, Alan Wells and I spoke at a meeting to launch the Wales basic
skills initiative. The meeting was attended by some two dozen media
representatives. The next day I know that at least one national
newspaper carried a story about the initiative. I couldnt help but
recall the meeting in the United Sates at which the National Literacy
Summit 2000 report From the Margins to the Mainstream was launched and
there was no media attention given at all.
While in the UK I gave two presentations of a speech that the Basic
Skills Agency had entitled: A Life In Basic Skills: Some Lessons
Learned. I covered four lessons that I have learned in my 35 years in
basic skills work in the US. The lessons were:
Lesson #1: Adults are more likely to learn what they want to learn
than what they dont want to learn.
Lesson #2: Adults are more likely to learn what they are taught than
what they are not taught.
Lesson#3: Adults who spend more time learning tend to learn more.
Lesson#4: Adult basic skills provision tends to have multiplier effects
However, my visit to the UK offered me another lesson that I did not
discuss there. This is the lesson of the profound importance of national
leadership for advancing the AELS . During my visit I was once again
convinced of the lack of political will and national leadership for
adult literacy education that we face in the United States. There are no
highly visible, honored members of either the Executive or Legislative
branches of our national government, nor outstanding leaders from
business, charitable foundations, or elsewhere, who champion the cause
of adult education and speak out frequently and passionately in the
broadcast or print media, or in important national forums, on behalf of
the need for the AELS and a national commitment to adult lifelong
At the end of my week in the UK, I was disappointed to find myself
thinking that, in contrast to the positive, dynamic, forward looking
activities of the national leadership in England and Wales, our own
national adult education and literacy leadership appears moribund.
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