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Adult Literacy and New Technologies - Federation of American ...

Adult Literacy and New Technologies - Federation of American ...

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2 | Adult Literacy and New Technologies: Tools for a Lifetime For Sonya Davis (left), receiving her GED has opened the door to college, while for Janet Espinal (right), learning how to read has led to a job as a secretary, companies, and they never knew I couldn’t read. There’s always somethin’ you can do to get by. Loopholes and the like. But it’s pretty hard. ” He motions toward the computer as he recalls past efforts: “I tried teaching myself, ordering tapes and such from the TV and all, and that’s helped some but not like this. ” When he came to the Learning Center, they put him on the computers. ‘‘Yeah, I got a lot of 100s. I’m going pretty fast. But I’ve skipped some stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to see the pictures, it not completely clear on the screen. ” This time he’s determined to make it through, changing jobs so he won’t be on the road all the time and can stick with the classes. “It takes time, sure. Just a little stump in the road, that’s all. ” 3 People who seek literacy services come from many different backgrounds and have many different motives for wanting to learn. “The target population [for literacy services] encompasses Americans who are employed, underemployed, and unemployed. ’ They can include: J SL Productions, video interview at the Columbus Learning “ Center, Cohunbua, ~, NOV. 11, 1991. women who need to reenter the workforce after a divorce; teenage mothers who dropped out of school when they became pregnant; immigrants with master’s degrees who speak no English; children of Hispanic migrant workers whose itinerant way of life limits their time in school; recent high school graduates who are having trouble finding a job; middle-aged auto workers whose plants recently closed; full-time homemakers who want to help their children with their homework; people who need to improve their mathematics skills to be promoted at work; truck drivers who need to pass a federally mandated written test to keep their jobs; or prison inmates who want to be employable when released, An array of public, community-based, and private adult literacy programs exist to help people like Eraclia, Howard, and Siman. Yet the national approach to adult literacy education falls short in several critical respects. The vast majority of adults with low literacy skills-perhaps 90 percent--do not receive any literacy services. A high proportion of those who do enroll in literacy programs do not stay long. Most of the instruction is provided by part-time teachers and volunteers, and the agencies and organizations that provide literacy services must deal with a host of persistent challenges, including insufficient and unstable funding, complex administrative requirements, multiple funding sources, and inadequate mechanisms for identifying and sharing effective practices. What can be done to improve this situation? One answer lies in technology. Computer-based instruction, for example, can draw people like 4 ~ -W., “s~ond ~ce Basic Skills JMucatioq” investing in People, k%oud Papers, VO1. 1, CO remission on Workfome Quality and Labor Market Eftlciency (cd.) (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Labor, September 1989), p. 218.

Siman into programs and keep them engaged. Interactive video can bring education into the home for busy mothers like Eraclia and link them with other learners with similar concerns. Multimedia technology can provide a rich palette of resources for people like Howard. Sound, intriguing graphics, and live action video can bring new color to the black and white print-based world of learning. But creative uses of technology are the exception rather than the rule in most adult literacy programs today, the dream rather than the reality. This study, requested by the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, seeks to answer this and other questions. In this report, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) considers why technology could make a difference in adult literacy, how it is used now, and what should be done to seize its potential for the future. WHAT IS THIS STUDY ABOUT? To assess the current and potential impact of technologies for literacy, it is necessary to understand the broader issues affecting adult literacy education in the United States. Therefore, this study begins by examining America’s “literacy problem,’ shows how standards and requirements for literacy have increased over time, and documents the large number of Americans in need (chapter 2). Next, we show that adult learners have unique instructional needs (chapter 3) that are only partly being met by the patchwork of programs that provide adult literacy education (chapter 4). The study then analyzes how Federal policies have expanded adult literacy programs, but created a more fragmented system (chapter 5). The diverse web of adult literacy programs, however, faces common problems and needs that technology could help overcome (chapter 6). Nevertheless, the study shows that the potential of technology for both learners and programs is not being exploited, and significant barriers inhibit Chapter 1-Summary and Policy Options | 3 wider or more sophisticated uses of technology (chapter 7). Finally, the study sketches a future vision in which better applications of technology make it possible to serve more adults and enable them to learn anyplace, anytime (chapter 8). WHAT IS “LITERACY”? Literacy is not a static concept. Almost 100 years ago, the proxy for literacy in the United States was being able to write one’s name. Throughout this century literacy demands have become more complex and the standard for what constitutes literacy has risen (see figure l-l). Despite considerable progress in raising the average level of educational attainment (today more than three-quarters of the adult population have completed high school), many believe that these gains have failed to meet the demands of a technological and global society. Scholars, educators, and policymakers are all struggling with how to redefine literacy to reflect changes in society, a global economy, higher educational standards for all students, and advances in technology. Technology, in all its forms, is having a profound effect on the ways people communicate with one another, shop, interact with social institutions, get information, and do their jobs. The current but evolving definition of what it means to be literate goes beyond the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Other important skills being considered are higher order thinking and problem-solving skills, computer and other technology-related skills, literacy skills in the context of the workplace, and literacy skills as they relate to parenting and family life. New Federal definitions of literacy incorporate some of these concepts: The 1991 National Adult Literacy Act defines literacy as: “. . . an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one’s goals, and develop

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    ● ● ● ● ● Chapter 2-The C

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    those who remain ‘ ‘uncounted.

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    population has remained relatively

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    T he literacy service delivery ‘

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    400 350 300 250 20O ‘ >“1 \ I [

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    s ince the mid- 1960s, the Federal

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    Although promising, these efforts c

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    War on Poverty program overseen by

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    somewhat contemporaneously, so it c

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    there is overlap. Both ED and the D

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    to 70 percent) or Head Start childr

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    Highly defined subcategories of new

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    esponding to public concerns about

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    experimental funds to promote use o

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    must coordinate or consult; most fr

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    Educational gains Support services

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    ecorders (VCRS), 27 and61 percent h

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    specialized personnel to evaluate h

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    — that provides information criti

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    T oday’s literacy programs are un

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    verify the owner’s request, relay

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    charge, Dave’s mother refused to

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    Guatemala to marry Eduardo when she

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    Through her ESL, parenting, job pre

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    Chapter 8-Looking Ahead to a Future

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    Chapter 8-Looking Ahead to a Future

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    munications capabilities. Ultimatel

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    Issues of Access and Equity These t

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    Chapter 8-Looking Ahead to a Future

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    Boxes Appendix A: List of Boxes, Fi

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    Appendix A-List of Boxes, Figures,

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    Appendix B-Major Federal Adult Lite

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    R = required; E = encouraged; O = o

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    Appendix C-Key Coordination Provisi

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    only discs, new data cannot be stor

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    Tablet or graphics tablet: A comput

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    PBS PIC PLUS R&D SBIR SCANS SDA SEA

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    Appendix F—Workshop Participants,

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    Rob Foshay TRO barring, Inc. Michae

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    Dennis Poe U.S. Department of Healt

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    Appendix G: Contributing Sites Thro

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    Northwest Tri-County Intermediate U

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    ABE. See Adult basic education ACCE

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    technological applications, 120-121

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    National Workplace Literacy Partner

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    workplace literacy, 102, 117-119 Te

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