Adult Learning and Literacy in the United Kingdom
Volume 1: Chapter Seven
In this chapter, Mary Hamilton and Juliet Merrifield provide an overview of adult basic education (ABE) in the United Kingdom, noting similarities and differences with the U.S. system and proposing elements for adoption or adaptation. The authors begin by discussing the economic, political and cultural climate shaping ABE and describing recent trends in related areas, such as vocational and higher education. They trace the history of ABE from its 1970s roots in a national literacy campaign aimed at empowering low literate citizens, to the current era, with ABE existing as a statutory program, required by law, with stable funding and a mandate of helping adults improve their skills and qualifications for career advancement. The authors also note that adult ESOL instruction has evolved on a separate path in the U.K. as a means of addressing the needs of immigrants. As the authors point out, the need for literacy and numeracy services is great, with an estimated 6 million people in need of services, while only a little more than 319,000 people were being served as of 1996.
Hamilton and Merrifield offer a description of the U.K.'s ABE system, noting exemplary institutions and national organizations that work to provide services, with attention to research, curriculum and management issues. In addition, the authors point to several areas of controversy among adult educators in the U.K. Among these issues is accreditation of learners and a concern over its impact on learners; the professionalization of teachers and concerns over teachers' status, training and working conditions; the conflicting move toward partnerships in a context that fosters competition for students; and changes in the definition and purposes of ABE. The authors conclude by noting strengths of the U.K. system, including classroom innovations, ABE's established place as a statutory requirement, a national accreditation system, and alternative routes through which learners can progress into other sectors of education. Areas for improvement, they note, include strengthening ABE entities in partnerships with other educational institutions; resolving concerns over the focus on skills in the accreditation system; strengthening the position of ESOL and coordinating it with other types of ABE; and gearing policy toward innovation, rather than monitoring and control.
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