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

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

126 I

126 I Adult Literacy and New Technologies: Tools for a Lifetime prison, while prison libraries, often woefully understocked, can be upgraded through links with libraries on the outside, databases, and other information resources. In youth correctional facilities, incarcerated juveniles can finish high school programs and participate in classes through linkups with local high schools, community colleges, or technical institutes. For the inmate who must be isolated, education can still take place even though he or she cannot “attend” class-via personal lessons on a computer, watching a televised class or tapes, or participating in a distance learning class via audiographics, satellite, cable, or other available technology. Since teachers and tutors in prison are available on a part-time basis and are often affected by security restrictions, technology can be a personal “secure’ tutor. POLICY IMPLICATIONS It is not surprising that this patchwork of programs and providers has been unable to meet the challenges of providing comprehensive, intensive, long-term adult literacy service to the growing numbers of adults in need. With their limited resources and capabilities, predominantly part-time or unpaid staff, unstable funding, and lack of coordination, America’s adult literacy programs serve at best less than 10 percent of the target population each year with low-intensity services of quality ranging from excellent to poor. High-quality adult literacy programs, of which there are many, are all the more impressive for the limitations under which they must operate, and the difficulties of the multiple demands and pressures adult leaners face. Despite the diversity of programs and services, a number of common issues appear, including: the need to enhance the professional status of adult literacy staff; the problems of providing comprehensive services; concerns with accountability and assessment of progress; the need for a research base on effective practices; the potential for encouraging partnerships and vehicles for coordination; and the promise of technology as a tool for more intensive individualized instruction as well as for better teacher training, recordkeeping, and information sharing. These issues are described in chapter 6.

s ince the mid- 1960s, the Federal Government has played a critical role in providing education services to adults with inadequate literacy skills. 1 Unlike elementary and secondary education, where a mature State and local infrastructure existed before the Federal Government entered the field, public adult education is in many ways a Federal creation. The main engines of the Federal role in adult education are the categorical grant programs-chief among them the Adult Education Act (AEA)-that support adult literacy and basic skills education. The Federal role is more than the sum of its grant programs, however. The Federal Government influences adult literacy services in other important ways-through executive branch initiatives and regulations, Federal leadership and public awareness activities, census counts and studies documenting and defining illiteracy, research and development, and congressional and departmental budget decisions. This chapter traces the evolution of the Federal role in adult literacy over time, analyzes current Federal efforts, and considers Federal policy on technology in adult literacy. FINDINGS ■ The Federal response to the problem of adult illiteracy consists of many categorical programs-at least 29, perhaps many 1 Federal programs use a variety of terms to describe educational sexvices below the college level for adults who are not proficient in basic skills or the English language. CcAdult education ” “basic skills, ” “lite=y Ws, ” “~glish fiter~y,” ~d “~~ -We h~tion” all appear in Federal law, sometimes undefined. k discussions of spedlc programs, this chapter employs the terms used in the relevant legislation Otherwise, this chapter uses the term “adult literacy education” or ‘‘b=ic sm education” when referring to the broader OTA definition set forth in chapter 2 of this report. 127 The Federal Role in Adult Literacy Education 5

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