Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Monday, July 30, 2007

monday morning blues

Here is something I read over at the LearningWork blog:

Many Canadians experience a significant loss of literacy skills during adulthood, and this loss appears to be concentrated in adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds, according to a new study. ...

The loss of literacy skills in Canada appears to be a gradual process that begins at the age of about 25, peaks at around 40, and tapers off during late middle age (55).

For example, adults aged 40 in 1994 had average scores on the IALS literacy test of about 288. When this test was implemented nine years later, those who were
aged 49 had average scores of about 275.

Really? I am not sure what this reported 13 point drop in scores could mean, but anecdotally I notice that what we read and how we read changes with age and with technology. I think that the possibilities and strategies for engaging with print material changed quite significantly between 1994 and 2003.

How many of us, when working with newcomers preparing for citizenship tests, or helping young friends do homework, or watching that show where people pit their wits against those of elementary school students, have reflected on how much of what we learned about math, civics, history, natural science in our school days has fled from our knowledge bank? Speaking personally, I am sure that any tests on geometry or the life cycle of frogs would show a drop of much more than 13 points over the years.

Come on everybody. Stop cluttering up the conversations about literacy and education with this weird, incomprehensible data. Every time I read one of these reports I think of this:

This is not the information age.
It is an age of data with delusions of grandeur.
Sorry, I cannot remember where I heard that or who said it. But I used to.


literacies editor said...

Here's my response to the CSEW blog:

I’m disappointed that this press release was reproduced rather than discussed. This study is part of a larger project by the OECD, via Statistics Canada, to link literacy and economic productivity. Out of context, as this post is, the results of IALLS are quite often used against working people with the least education and therefore privilege. One piece of context that could have been illuminating is another paper that Stats Can released last year showing that whether or not your employer pays for training and retraining depends greatly on your level of education. We all know that access to higher education is still highly correlated with socioeconomic status, so this means that the educated get richer and the poor are kept in McJobs. Last year’s report showed that people with university education are most likely be in jobs that pay for some, if not all, of the work-related training. Meanwhile, people who come to adult literacy programs include those who have been told that they now need a GED to do the job they've been doing for the past 10 or 15 years... And media discussions of literacy continue to focus on blaming individuals who struggle with literacy for Canada’s “low productivity” and “lack of competitiveness”.

Nor do our governments seem keen to change things. As Veeman, Ward and Walker point out in Valuing Literacy: Rhetoric or Reality (Detselig, 2006), the way adult education is structured and funded in this country is nothing short of ‘creaming’ – those who need the most help with literacy are the least likely to get support. That is, “the emphasis has been on sustaining meritocracy rather than on producing social equity… Literacy in countries such as Canada is seen as the individual’s problem to be solved, and the rampant individualism that has damaged trust, fairness, and social bonds has not served to raise literacy levels.” (p. 105)

Another piece of puzzle is the fact that literacy – a continuum of interaction with print – is being reduced year by year to a very finite list of decontextualized ‘skills’ which are increasingly being used to classify, label and exclude people.

The space to talk about who does and does not have access to education, and whose interests are served by what education is offered, is shrinking every day. That is not to say the discussion isn’t happening. Here are some examples that I hope will serve as useful connections:

* Discussion of the links between violence and difficulties in school: http://www.learningandviolence.net/

* Discussion of the particular issues faced by indigenous people:

* A recent report about research in practice in adult literacy includes a chapter that documents the very real limits that prevent adults from improving their literacy ‘skills’, including the appalling working conditions in adult literacy: http://ripal.literacy.bc.ca/Jan5LiteracyBook.pdf

Feel free, too, to check out back issues of Literacies, which is a forum for discussion of all questions related to adult literacy work in Canada: http://www.literacyjournal.ca/readers.html

Tannis Atkinson
Editor, Literacies

RS said...

Thank you for your comments. I posted the article to generate thoughtful discussion.

Rhonda Sussman
Centre for the Study of Education and Work (CSEW)

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