Adult literacy is concern that affects all of society. Understanding this improves all aspects of life for the learner, his family, and society at large. Knowing how to read, write, and function in the language of commerce is essential to success. While literacy has been considered a human right needed to secure democracy since the 1980s, this was not always the case. Examining the historical changes of adult literacy as well as the types gives a fuller understanding of the issue.
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During the era of slavery, literacy was seen as a privilege of the whites. If slaves were taught to read, the punishment was severe, loss of limbs was not an uncommon result of the crime. However, as slavery ended and education, although not equal education was opened to all races literacy became a concern. From the end of slavery through the 1960s literacy was seen as only the ability to read simple words and either sign or mark an "X". With the Civil Rights Movement, came a new look at literacy.
The first adult literacy programs began during the 1960s, however the programs were under funded and the teachers were poorly trained and unmotivated. As the 1970s approached, literacy became seen as essential for democracy. The United States aimed for expanding literacy rates, and in so doing, lowered the standards so as to claim 99 per cent literate
1980 and Beyond
The 1980s brought about a literacy education revolution. New theories regarding the definition of literacy were evolving and expanding. To be considered literate a person needed to be able to read, write, speak and perform mathematics to a functioning workplace level. With this in mind, the National Coalition for Literacy was born. New assessments were given to adults ages 16 and up.
The goal was to see how literate adults were. It was no longer enough to read simple sentences, but people needed to be able to truly function and participate in society. After several years of gathering data, adult literacy programs changed to teach the skills to excel in the information age and to adjust to changing technology.
Task-Based Adult Literacy
In 1992 and 2003, benchmark testing occurred. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) was given at random. The test looked at two major aspects of literacy. The first aspect tested was task-based literacy. Task-based literacy is conceptual and focused on the everyday uses of literacy.
According to NAAL tasked-based literacy is "the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential". Task-based literacy looks at three types of literary tasks adults encounter in their daily lives: prose, such as looking at a newspaper; document, such as locating streets on a map; and quantitative, such as balancing a checkbook
Skill-Based Adult Literacy
The second area of focus is literacy skills which focus on the knowledge and skills adults must master to perform literacy tasks. These skills are on a continuum from simple word recognition to drawing inferences from a given text. There are seven types of literacy skills tested: basic reading skills, language skills, text search skills, computation identification skills, inferential skills, computation performance skills and application skills.
Below Average Performing Adults
There are two paths under-literate adults may take in order to raise their literacy levels. The first path is for native speakers of English. This course of study acts as a remediation course. When combined with basic education, at the conclusion of this program, students may get a GED. The focus for under-literate native speakers is functional literacy, or the ability to balance the checkbook, and workplace literacy, or the ability to write memos and converse with co-workers. The second path is for people learning English as a second language. This path begins with word recognition and will help non-native speakers to become literate in English.
The effects of adult literacy are far-reaching. Illiteracy leads to the loss of freedoms, the inability to function politically, the lack of understanding, and the loss of financial opportunities. Becoming literate has the opposite effect. It insures a democratic and well-informed society. It leads to job opportunities. It creates generational socio-economic benefits for families because the more education a person has, the more likely his children will receive that level or higher. And lastly, it results in higher self-esteem.
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