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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



I have the right to write!

by Pamela Spiteri
Language: EN
Document available also in: FR DE MT

I have the right to write.

But do you have the right mindset?


I have everything I want. I have kids. Money. My own business. But I don’t know how to read. I can’t write. I have hidden it from so many people There’s nothing I want more in my life than to be able to read and write! I want it for myself. I need it to be able to help my kids. It would help me in work and in personal relationships. But who can understand the way I feel?I don’t think any teacher can really help me because they can’t understand me.


Ben’s words left me speechless*. It was a casual encounter at a social event.

But I couldn’t stop thinking. I can write. Ben has the right to write.

We all have the right to write.


In a search for social justice through education, the capabilities approach promotes literacy as a powerful source of agency, autonomy and socio-economic mobility (Nussbaum, 2000; Sen, 2003). Illiteracy is on the other hand viewed as insecurity, deprivation and inequality (Maddox,  2008). Global adult literacy statistics are a sad reminder of social inequality and capability deprivation. In its broad sense literacy within the capability approach is a social right for every being and a key factor of well-being (Maddox, 2008).


According to Hartas (2014), “[f]unctionings are related to the different conditions that surround people’s lives. Educated parents, for example, may be in a better position to offer learning support at home and create learning conditions that are conducive to child academic achievement” (p. 166). Functions can also relate to the parents’ social constraints they might face to support their children in education (Hartas, 2014). Capabilities on the other hand refer to the parents’ abilities to overcome these constraints. In this perspective, unless we provide the right support to families to overcome their constraints, illiteracy can become a vicious cycle.


A sad cycle that fails both the young and adults alike.

And that’s where we can imporve.


But how can we make this right?


You can be the adult educator that makes a difference.

You can stop the cycle.

You can give Ben the right to write.

You can provide such a powerful social entitlement and key to well-being to all the Bens you meet.


But do you have the right mind-set?


Top 3 Tips to embrace the right mind-set to empower adult learners with literacy skills:

  1. Treat them as adult learners but do not forget they might be scared as any other learner.

Do you remember your first day at school? What do parents do with their kids on their first day? Do they encourage them with comforting words? We need to also acknowledge that an adult learners’ experience of starting to learn to read might be as scary as any 5 year olds’ first day at school. They need to be encouraged. You might be the changing factor. Acknowledge every step but do make an effort to use adult resources.


  1. Don’t assume but get to know them!

Get to know why they want to learn to read and write. What stopped them from doing so before? Do not make any assumptions. Learn their story and you will find the key to their learning. It takes courage to start. Let’s face it. Would you continue playing the same game if you kept losing? I wouldn’t. Maybe they did not find the right support to continue before. You can be that support. Get to know them. Discover what is their inner motivation to learn. If you know them well you can make a big difference in their learning journey.


  1. Don’t let them give up but most importantly, do not give up!

Do not let them give up. They might not show up. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. It sometimes means: I’m scared. I’m scared to fail again. I don’t want to give up but will you judge me? Show them you care. Let them know that it is not only important for them that they learn to read and write. But it is also important for you. You are part of the system. The system that has to make this right. You are the one that won’t let them give up their right but will help them to write.


But how can we make it right this time?


The answer is simple: there is no single best method.


However identifying some strategies can make it more relevant to help learners succeed. You can start from having the right mind-set and by integrating outcomes with meaningful andragogy practices. Bloom’s taxonomy can help you to classify learning outcomes and support learners to scaffold learning. Knowles (2014) principles of andragogy can be mapped to Bloom’s Taxonomy in this way:

  • Involvement and feedback = Remember & Explain
  • Relating to their own experiences = Application
  • Relevant to their current lives or goals = Analysis & Synthesis
  • Problem-solving = Evaluate & Create




 Learning is a continuous cycle.

We all have the right to write.

Do you have the right mind-set to take an active role within the cycle?




(eLearning Industry, 2018)



Pamela Spiteri is the Education Officer for the prevention of Early School Leaving at Malta's ESL unit. She is currently following a PhD programme in Education and Social Justice at Lancaster University and has previously obtained a Masters in Education: Teaching, learning and research from Sheffield University. Pamela is also a visiting lecturer at the Institute for Education in the areas of pedagogy, andragogy and social justice. She also supports student teachers as their tutor during their teaching practice both at the Institute for Education as well as the University of Malta. 




eLearning Industry. (2018). The Adult Learning Theory - Andragogy - of Malcolm Knowles - eLearning Industry. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].

Hartas, D. (2014). Family Policy and the Capability Approach to Parents’ and Children’s Well-Being. In: Parenting, Family Policy and Children’s Well-Being in an Unequal Society. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 166-187.

Knowles, M.S., Holton III, E.F. and Swanson, R.A., 2014. The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Routledge.

Krathwohl, D.R., 2002. A revision of Bloom's taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice, 41(4), pp.212-218.

Maddox, B. (2008). What good is literacy? Insights and implications of the capabilities approach. Journal of Human Development, 9(2), pp. 185-206.

Nussbaum, M.C. (2000). Woman and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Sen, A. (2003). ‘Reflections on literacy’. In: C. Robinson, ed., Literacy as freedom. UNESCO, Paris, pp. 21-30.



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  • Cath Harcula's picture
    Interesting references to Hartas D (2014).  Family Learning programmes have been shown to engage parents with low levels of literacy as they are motivated to ensure that their children achieve.
  • Pamela Spiteri's picture
    Thanks for your feedback Cath Harcula. I tend to agree and find that Hartas has discussed this quite well in her work.