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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



EPALE Discussion: Adult literacy – what skills do adults need and what makes for an effective policy?

by EPALE Moderator

/epale/nb/file/literacy-discussion-epale-ebsnLiteracy Discussion EPALE EBSN

Literacy Discussion EPALE EBSN


As part of EPALE’s September focus on adult literacy, we would like to hear your views on what literacy skills adults need and what the success factors are for an effective national policy in this field.

The discussion is open to everyone and will take place on this page between 4-7 September 2017. It will be moderated by EPALE’s Thematic Coordinator for Life Skills, David Mallows in collaboration with our partners from the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN). This is a very lively discussion which is taking place over several pages. To go to the second page click here.  To go directly to the third page of discussion click here. Please make sure that you have perused all the discussion.

Feel free to comment or share your opinion on any of the following questions:

What kind of literacy skills do adults need in Europe in 2017?

  • What do we mean when we talk about 'adult literacy'? How does literacy relate to other basic skills?
  • What is the place of literacy in the context of Upskilling Pathways?
  • What needs improvement in literacy teaching and learning?

What are the success criteria for effective national policy in this field?

  • What are the main challenges (in your context) in supporting adults to improve their literacy?
  • How can we ensure that adequate investment is made in adult literacy education?


**The discussion has now been closed. You can still browse and read the community's comments.

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 227
  • Antonella Giless bilde

    Yes, Graciela.  That is very true!

    There are many apps to encourage Literacy but most of them are designed for school children.  Few apps are actually created to target adults.  An app used to teach various languages and which is quite popular among older students is 'Duolingo'.  

    Having said that, there are many Web 2.0 tools available online which educators may use to encourage and support adult literacy. Such tools may be used to create quizzes and simple polls, encourage discussions through forums, share files for the students to work collaboratively.  These are just a few ideas how online tools can be used in an eduacational context.  And, of course, the material used can vary according to the age of your students.

    In fact, I intend to explore some of these Web 2.0 tools and how they can be used to support literacy. I shall be sharing my ideas with you all in the 'Resource Section' of the EPALE platform.


  • Jonneke Prinss bilde

    Agree with you Anna Kristin.

    In institutes for adult education in the Netherlands we talk about LESLLA students. I introduced this term in my team of colleagues, all of them teaching Dutch as a second language, since I am a member on the international LESLLA forum ( LESLLA is a acronym: Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults.

    Some students in our classes have a primary school basis. They can read and write in their own language in a different alphabet. Our ultimate aim is to empower these students to reach the ERK breakthrough level in Dutch (A1). So they join a class 'to learn Dutch with a special focus on reading and writing'. We call it 'Alfa NT2'.

    The law, in which since 2013 rules are layed down for civic integration in the Dutch society, makes it difficult for many LESLLA students to reach that level A1. Within these rules there is a financial basis to follow a LESLLA class for only 600 hours. For many students this is not enough. There are various reasons for that:

    • For acquisition of basic skills a range of learning environments is needed, not only within but also outside the classroom. Practising is not always possible. Our students need to talk with native speakers. However there are more and more initiatives to organize literacy houses in libraries.
    • Many students go to school after a long time. They have to renew their skills for learning.
    • Some students lack a basis in primary school. They have to develop their learningskills.
    • Some refugees are suffering because of a trauma. That makes it difficult te learn.

    So you can see Anna Kristin the efforts and the difficulties in the Netherlands to offer LESLLA students all that they need tot learn and to learn all these things with pleasure.

    Jonneke Prins (MA)
    expert education Dutch as a Second Language
    Kellebeek College
    Breda / Roosendaal  the Netherlands


  • Christian BERNHARD-SKALAs bilde

    Thank you Graciela for discussing terminology first. To me it seems sometimes that literacy became a big buzzword that evrybody wants to be part of the movement. So people started talking about european literacy or discussed English as a basic skill for German citizens. This is really like putting everything into the same bag. In Germany we call this Omnibus-Begriff - Bus-word, which I like a lot as an idiom, because it claims that everybody wants get on board by using a certain wording.

    On the other hand, maybe these people are very right: If we take literacy and basic skills as the capacaties needed in a society to praticipate equally, we need to state that good capacities in English in a modern globalized society might by very useful for equal participation.


  • Rumen HALACHEVs bilde

    Thank you everyone for this incredibly active and fruitful discussion. EPALE's aim is to provide a platform for adult learning professionals to exchange ideas, network and collaborate. If you want to continue this discussion on EPALE, we recommend that you create a community of practice on adult literacy. This is a great opportunity to discuss further topics and establish professional connections.

    Learn more about EPALE's Communities of Practice

    /epale/en/file/thank-you-0Thank you

  • Jo Dixons bilde

    DigLin, developed for "non-literate adult immigrants learning to read for the first time in Dutch, English, German or Finnish", might be of interest to some people here: 


    The last time I looked you could still try out the activities though I think the project has ended and it's not something I've been involved with myself so I don't know what the plans are in terms of its availability for use with learners going forward. Maybe someone else here knows...

  • Jo Dixons bilde

    Thanks all three for this interesting thread!

    As a member of the adult basic skills / 'Skills for Life' workforce between 1996 and 2005 (and some time beyond that in a rather on-and-off part-time amongst-other-things kind of way), I was one of the beneficiaries of the training Joyce mentions :-)

    Initiatives to improve accessibility often focus on disabled people in their efforts to make opportunities more *inclusive* and something that I've started to ponder is whether, in doing so, we actually *exclude* some individuals who do not have the right labels. Would it not be more inclusive to consider each individual's needs and how we might best work towards meeting those needs regardless of whether they are labelled dyslexic or (name any recognised disability)?

    It's not my intention to criticise any accessibility/inclusion kind of efforts - I learnt a huge amount from the 'Access for All' training and other disability-focused training I have been involved in. But moving beyond that, perhaps it's useful to explore ideas that have traditionally only been used to help people with specific labels to see whether they are useful for others. For example, some years ago - probably inspired by some disability awareness training or other - I went into a family literacy class with a set of different coloured 'reading rulers' - something like these:  These are sometimes recommended for dyslexic readers and people with other specific disabilities. Different colours work for different individuals. I had acquired them because an adult in my class had said she used to use a coloured reading ruler at school and it had helped, but that since leaving school some years ago she didn't have one and struggled with everyday reading tasks. 

    Rather than simply offer her a rule of her preferred colour, I explained to the whole class what they were and how some people find them helpful and encouraged all the learners to grab a book and try out different colours to see if they thought they might like to use one when reading. Most of the learners did not feel they made a difference and were happy to carry on without one. However, several learners in addition to the individual who had had a diagnosis and support at school felt they made it easier or more comfortable to read and opted to continue using them.

    For various reasons people's difficulties are not always diagnosed and labelled - sometimes because they have had limited or interrupted opportunities to participate in formal education during childhood or because they were ashamed and developed strategies to disguise their difficulties and try cope in their own way.  Is it possible that by thinking of assistive technologies and other tools and techniques as only appropriate for specific groups of learners we do a disservice to others who might benefit from them?

  • Jo Dixons bilde

    "How does acquisition of reading and writing competences support acquisition of language and ICT competences and vice versa? How are they contingent on one another? How can digital and media literacy be taught “from the start” as an integral component of the basic education of migrants in combination with language..."

    Hallo Eva!

    I find these questions really interesting and relevant to the research that I am trying to undertake for my PhD at the University of Southampton.

    I'm particularly interested in exploring the use of technologies like text-to-speech (read aloud) and voice input to support people with low literacy to do more online and I wonder whether any of your colleagues involved with MIKA's digital and media literacy research are also exploring this idea.  I wonder how much initial literacy is required in order to make productive use of these technologies to engage with online text. I wonder how the use of digital speech tools to compensate for literacy difficulties while developing digital skills would support the literacy learning process. I would be really interested to hear whether any work is being done on something like this.   

  • Branislav Frks bilde

    Hello Martin, 

    perfect, the "floating definitions" is what we need in "liquid world" we living in! 

  • Andrea Fenzs bilde

    Dear Collegues, I am working as a trainer for German as a Foreign/Second language in a region in Austria.

    In the Adult Literacy project in 2013 we were coping e.g. with low reading skills in Austria which according to PIAAC study were partly linked also to migration.

    Upskilling pathways for asylum seekers often starts with alphabetisation classes. We see differences between learners who just have to learn the German characters and those who were illiterates at home. I did not understand in the first weeks that some could not read the translation that was projected onto the wall until I pressed the loudspeaker symbol or a collegue could read the word in Arabic or Farsi/Persian. Adult literacy is linked to basic education and indirectly also to problem solving competences when it comes to do exercises according to pre-defined schemes.

    Online learning with smart phones is encouraging. Easy videos with drawings, selected written words and spoken texts have worked best. There is a clear need for more videos that are suited for alphabetisation and A1 beginners classes. As a trainer we have to support the learners to find the right choice of online resources.

  • Jo Dixons bilde

    Hi Graciela, thanks for your reply. I agree, the man in my example is probably dyslexic but has, like many other older adults and adult immigrants from developing countries, never had the opportunity to have the diagnosis that would perhaps have given him access to more appropriate support. In my experience, it is unusual, outside of full-time education and employment, to be able to get tested for dyslexia as an adult. 

    But then, why should you need a diagnosis, a label, to be entitled to use assistive technologies? Many adult learners have undiagnosed and quite complex and varied reasons for their difficulties with literacy and need to invest a lot of time and effort to progress. Stuck at a low level, unable to read or write very meaningful real life texts, busy, stressed, tired... Is it inappropriate for them to use the technology that some disabled people rely on to compensate for their difficulties? Could it not perhaps help motivate them to engage more with texts and actually lead to improved skills?