Analphabetismus und Alphabetisierung in Deutschland: Kein Thema für die Erwachsenenbildung? - PDF

Andrea Linde Illiteracy and literacy programmes in Germany: Not a topic for adult education? Analphabetismus und Alphabetisierung in Deutschland: Kein Thema für die Erwachsenenbildung? Note: This abstract

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Andrea Linde Illiteracy and literacy programmes in Germany: Not a topic for adult education? Analphabetismus und Alphabetisierung in Deutschland: Kein Thema für die Erwachsenenbildung? Note: This abstract version of the thesis (original thesis 2000) has been published in: Hamburger Hefte der Erwachsenenbildung, Heft II/2001. This edition is for the price of 10,00 DM through the following address available: Universität Hamburg Fachbereich Erziehungswissenschaft Lehrstuhl Erwachsenenbildung / Weiterbildung Prof. Dr. Peter Faulstich Joseph-Carlebach-Platz 1 / Binderstr Hamburg If you have any questions please contact Andrea Linde: Download at 1 Preface Presented by Daniela Harlinghausen, German Institute for Adult Education - DIE Dear teacher, trainer or whoever might be involved in basic skills in Europe. On the following pages the author Andrea Linde first gives an overview about several definitions of illiteracy. The whole text consists of the first two parts of the first chapter of her thesis she completed in order to graduate with diploma in adult education, university degree. Furthermore she approaches the topic literacy and the specific situation in Germany by Identifying a taboo topic as a problem area. I chose this part of the text for translation and presentation in the forward-portal as it first gives an insight to the discussion of terms that is permanently going on. And second it goes on with describing very well the development rational background of what is going on with basic skills in Germany. So I hope with this appetizer you gain some knowledge but also get curious about the current development in Analphabetismus in Deutschland (Iliteracy in Germany) Illiteracy and literacy programmes in Germany: Not a topic for adult education? Andrea Linde 1. Introduction The author has not had any direct experience with respect to literacy programmes and in this article adopts an outsider s perspective, whereby particular value is placed on the analysis of theoretical assumptions relating to the topic of literacy/illiteracy 1. An alternative approach to this area of work is thus adopted here which focuses on relationships between underlying assumptions, definitions and notions. The provocative title of this work is not meant as an attack on people working in the field of practice or organisations dealing with issues in this area. It is a plea, rather, for more efforts to be made by research to analyse the topic and establish a linkage between actual literacy programmes and educational research, in particular adult education. Literacy programmes are more of a marginal topic in the area of education, but this must be viewed in a new light considering the ever-higher 2 qualifications being demanded in all areas of life at present. The reading and writing competencies frequently associated with literacy programmes are considered to be basic skills in our society even although a sizeable group of citizens do not possess these skills at an adequate level. Some definitions of illiteracy are offered, followed by a critical examination of the taboo topic of illiteracy in Germany. 1.1 Definitions of illiteracy The notion of illiteracy denotes a deficiency 2. There are deficiencies in the mastery of written language; in other words, literacy is lacking. At the beginning of the 20 th century, the criteria used to ascertain literacy or illiteracy were e.g. the ability to read the Small Catechism or to sign one s name instead of using three X s; in the meantime a more discriminating approach is used. Efforts to achieve universal literacy have been closely associated with UNESCO since UNESCO proclaimed a campaign to eradicate illiteracy to be a primary objective directly after the end of World War II (cf. Kamper, p.573). The UNESCO definition, which enjoys broad recognition, considers individuals to be illiterate if they are unable to read or write simple observations relating to their everyday lives in a comprehensible manner (cf. Lenhart/Maier, p. 482). Illiteracy is frequently held to be the absence of the ability to read and write; but according to the UNESCO definition, mathematics is also a so-called cultural skill. This view of mathematical skills as an integral part of literacy is partly due to a broader definition of literacy in English-speaking countries. The following definition forwarded by Drecoll is frequently cited in the German literature: Functional illiteracy denotes an inability to meet minimum social requirements regarding fluency in written language, which is a prerequisite for participation in written communication (an area subject to intensive social norms) in all areas of work and life (Drecoll 1981, p. 31; cited in Nuissl, p. 551). One variation of illiteracy has thus already been addressed: functional illiteracy; This category can also be broken down into different definitions: Primary illiterates did not have the opportunity to learn to read and write as 3 children and adolescents, generally due to the lack of an effective school system; this is also sometimes referred to as natural illiteracy (cf. Bundesverband Alphabetisierung). This form of illiteracy is frequently encountered in developing countries. Industrialised countries are more concerned with the problem of secondary illiteracy. As a result of immigrants who did not learn to read and write in their country of origin and are not fluent in the language of the country they have immigrated to, however, the industrialised countries are also increasingly being confronted by the problem of primary illiteracy (cf. DIE 1996, p. 6). Secondary illiteracy is used to describe cases where rudimentary skills in reading and writing are present upon the conclusion of secondary school are lost over time (cf. Kamper, p. 577). When people lose skills and abilities, they ultimately fall below the minimum standards set by society. Erroneously enough, the terms secondary illiteracy and functional illiteracy are sometimes used synonymously although secondary illiteracy is considered to be a special case of functional illiteracy (cf. Hubertus 1995, p. 251). There are also so-called secondary illiterates in the so-called developing countries. Often the skills which have been acquired earlier atrophy through disuse and lack of practice. This is particularly the case when people are not forced to use these skills. This illustrates the involvement of literacy in the socio-cultural context. In the industrial countries functional illiterates 3 are generally assumed to be the case. With functional illiterates, various levels of reading, writing and mathematical skills are present. There are scarcely adults who do not have some understanding of letters (people without any understanding of reading, writing and mathematics are also referred to as complete illiterates). A functional illiterate under the UNESCO definition of 1978 is a person who cannot take part in all the specific activities of their group and community in which reading, writing and math is required or engage in use of these cultural skills in their future development and that of their community (cited by Hubertus 1995, p. 251 et seq.). The notion of functional illiteracy came into use for the first time in the middle of the 20 th century. In the U.S. and Great Britain during World War II it quickly became apparent that there were recruits who did not possess sufficient reading and writing skills in spite of having fulfilled general school-attendance requirements. This term has always been closely linked to employability and social integration (cf. Kamper, p. 575). 4 The Bundesverband Alphabetisierung emphasises the relative nature of the definition of functional illiteracy in the historical-societal context: Illiteracy is a relative term. Whether a person is deemed to be an illiterate or not depends not only on their individual reading and writing skills. Above and beyond this, it needs to be taken into account what degree of fluency in a written language is expected in the particular society in which individuals live. If individual skills are lower than that which is required and these skills are taken for granted, functional illiteracy is considered to be present (Bundesverband Alphabetisierung; Tröster 1996b, p. 12). The large variety and relativity of definitions of illiteracy or literacy has been aptly summed up by Ursula Giere: Because there is no literacy, but rather many manifestations of literacy or many literacies, there cannot be any generally valid definition of the phenomenon (Giere, p. 873). It is not difficult to grasp the relative nature of the definition of functional illiteracy. In addition, it is necessary in the discussion over the future structure of the literacy/basic education 4 sphere to set out a clear definition of the respective requirements Identifying a taboo topic as a problem area Illiteracy is a taboo topic: It is rarely discussed in public and the people affected by it frequently do not leave their isolated realms out of fear of discrimination. Efforts to activate potential parts of target groups have not been very considerable in Germany. Financial resources for a public-awareness campaign are lacking. In addition, high-profile advertising is considered to be irresponsible, as a large demand for literacy courses could not be dealt with by providing an adequate number of courses as a result of scarce resources (cf. Kamper, p. 578). Hubertus notes on the other hand that: Literacy courses have been offered in the Federal Republic of Germany for more than 15 years now and [...] one could assume that this area of work has in the meantime managed to stabilise at a certain level; instead, however, stagnation and back-sliding is rampant, and in many areas of teaching resignation is evident (Hubertus 1995, p. 251). 5 There is a need to take action in the area of research; this has thus far only occurred sporadically. 5 The looming reduction in financial resources in the area of continuing public education is lamented in a brochure which was put out by the DIE in 1996 according to the brochure, costly literacy courses were particularly affected, with reference being made at the same time to the overt lack of interest in the topic of illiteracy: Unfortunately there is a tendency among educational policy experts to suppress the topic of illiteracy. This suppression is reinforced by the government budget deficit. At the same time it is overlooked that the costs to society which accrue as a result are much greater (DIE 1996, p. 5). The failure to realise this fact has a negative impact on the quantity and quality of courses on offer. The variety of courses and the qualification of the teaching personnel are increasingly viewed as in danger of deterioration (cf. DIE 1996, p. 8). In spite of its highly developed, highly differentiated educational system, the Federal Republic of Germany is confronted with the problem of functional illiteracy. The problem came to public attention in the seventies, when adult education discovered literacy as a field of practice. The first conference on the topic of illiteracy took place in Bremen in 1980 under the title of illiteracy among German-speaking adolescents and adults a challenge for continuing education and research. For the first time, the magnitude of illiteracy was openly stated to amount to three million people at this conference (cf. Huck, p. 13; cf. DIE 1996, p. 7). According to an estimate of the German UNESCO Commission (DUK), a more or less constant number of approximately 0.75 to 3% of the total population is assumed to be illiterate in the old German Länder. 6 On the same shaky foundations, and taking into account additional factors such as numbers of pupils, drop-outs from lower classes and pupils attending special education, a figure of 2% has been forwarded for the new German Länder (cf. Huck, p. 9). There is no survey on the number of total or functional illiterates in Germany. The rate can only be estimated and it is assumed that in real terms it is much higher (cf. Kamper, p. 576 et seq.). Finally, only the number of participants in literacy courses can be used as a reliable indice. One has to resort to guess-work when it comes to the number of illiterate persons who do not take part in literacy courses, which has been estimated using data and information collected on people attending courses or extrapolating from the number of adolescents without a secondary school degree. Approximately 80,000 young people drop out of 6 school every year, and it can be assumed that a large portion of these have considerable deficits in reading, writing and math (cf. DIE February 4, 2000; cf. Kamper, p. 576). A causal relationship is imputed between the rise in unemployment in the eighties and the growing demand for literacy measures in various European countries. Functional illiterates tend to be unemployed and threatened by loss of their jobs more often. In a tightening labour market, more demanding job requirements and a decline in the number of manual jobs leave very few types of work which can be performed by functional illiterates. 7 While literacy requirements are on the rise (a minimum competence with the media is becoming increasingly important, for instance), it is assumed that approximately 20% of adults are not keeping pace with the development of the information and communication society and will remain at the bottom of the pyramid with respect to opportunities, prosperity and education (cf. Tröster 1996b, p. 11 et seq.). Without ignoring the fundamental importance of vocational qualifications in the labour market and the business interest in harnessing and shaping the skills available in the labour market, additional scenarios appear to be possible as well. People need to be viewed as subjects involved in complex relationships in which they have fundamental right to freely develop their personality both individually and as actors in society. Concentration on labour market qualifications is too narrow a perspective. Basic education addresses different areas and phases of life. The Hamburg Declaration on Learning by Adults, formulated during the UNESCO World Conference CONFINTEA in Hamburg in 1997, addressed this issue: Basic education for all means that people have the opportunity regardless of their age to develop their potential as individuals or in society. This is not only a right, but also an obligation and a responsibility towards other individuals and society as a whole. It is important that recognition of the right to lifelong learning be supported by programmes which create the preconditions for the exercise of this right [...] learning by young people or adults is the most important means with which to encourage creativity and productivity in the broadest sense, and this is once again indispensable if we are to solve the complex interrelated problems of the world, which are subject to quickening pace of change, increasingly complexity and growing risks (CONFINTEA, p. 4). 7 The Literacy action plan, which was passed at the 25 th General Conference of UNESCO in 1998, set out the objectives of drastically reducing illiteracy in the developing countries and completely eradicating functional illiteracy in the industrialised countries. 8 These goals compare with a negative trend in the area of literacy, especially dwindling financial resources and, as a result, fewer courses on offer. And these aims stand in complete contrast to the increasingly demanding requirements and a correspondingly higher percentage of people who do not meet these requirements. National surveys performed in Germany in 1987 and 1994 (in the old Länder, that is) indicate a negative trend: While there were 308 institutions with 1,063 courses offered with 8,243 participants in 1987, this number had declined to 163 institutions with 948 courses and 7,247 participants by In an opening address given at the Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll in 1993 under the banner illiteracy and literacy: societal and organisational challenges, it was stated, It is understandable that after ten years the funding possibilities of the Federal Ministry of Education and Science for this area have been largely consumed. We have managed to get things up and rolling, but now the whole thing has to keep moving through its own volition. The Federal government will also be ready to give a little push here and there in the future just to keep the momentum from abating. (Ortleb, p. 8). The question is: how literacy measures can be funded on a reasonable scale without government support? Who is interested in adults with learning disadvantages becoming literate, i.e. who is prepared to contribute the financial resources to put on courses? Illiterates frequently come from socially or financially weak strata of the population and have little choice outside of subsidised courses. In an ideal case these courses would be fully subsidised. Deficient reading and writing skills are not the fault of an individual. These are widely viewed, rather, to constitute a societal problem and, as a result, an educational problem as well (cf. DIE, 2000). It is assumed that various factors coalesce to cause illiteracy. International research in the nineties identified three interrelated areas in which the root causes of functional illiteracy are to be found: 8 (1) Cultural and social factors, (2) School-related factors and (3) Individual factors (cf. Huck, p. 21) The relative weight to be accounted for by these factors vary from one individual to another. What matters here is the assumption that the causes cannot be solely ascribed to the individual. Illiteracy is moreover also a function of conditions prevailing at schools as well as individuals respective living circumstances. Preventing and combating illiteracy is held by various actors to be a challenge for educational policy and society as a whole (cf. Stark 1994, p. 7). In 1991 the Federal-Länder Commission Report on Educational Planning and the Promotion of Research stated in its closing remarks with respect to the issue of functional illiteracy in Germany: In estimating the costs of literacy and basic education programmes, it is not enough to view the problem from a micro-economic perspective one also needs to see things from a macro-economic angle. Illiteracy is a problem affecting all of society, which means that both society and the government are saddled with costs including labour market costs (Huck, p. 37). On the one hand, it is apparent that illiteracy represents a problem affecting all of society, but where is the support which is needed to mobilise action, for something to be done? And how can the key actors involved be encouraged to assume more responsibility? It is to be assumed that solid figures and analyses of the situation could help focus greater attention on the problem in the educational policy-making sphere. In addition to the difficulty involved in surveying the amount of functional illiteracy in society, however, it is also necessary to specify the dividing line between functional illiteracy and the status of being a functional literate (cf. Hubertus 1995, p. 253). Here it needs to be asked whether it makes sense to maintain this dichotomy in the first place. To be a viable actor in modern society, an increasingly wide variety of complex skills are needed. It is in this context that the notion of literacy has fallen into disuse and is being replaced by the concept of basic education, although it is difficult to trace any clear line demarcating these. If one is to adopt the perspective that the growing number of functional illiterates or illiterate individuals is directly related to increasing social and individual requirements, while at the same time requirements are moving beyond merely learning to read and write to posit a new definition of basic adult education or learning learning, the field of research 9 on adult education i
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