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La Educación
Número: (116) III
Año: 1993

2. Hal BEDER. Adult Literacy. Issues for Policy and Practice. Malabar, Florida: Krieger, 1991. ix, 182 p., bibliography, index. Cloth: $22.50.

With so much talk nowadays about productivity, competitiveness and the global economy, the topic of adult literacy is attracting renewed attention. The transformation of the world economy is posing new challenges to both the formal and informal education system. The training of the future work force and retraining of adults whose skills and capacities have become obsolete in light of the technological transformations in the business and production sector is demanding new answers. Beder’s book, in spite of being two years old, is welcomed as a valid and useful review of the research available on the topic that provides insightful information for policy makers.

The author, in a very clear and easy to read style, and building on the results of the Iowa Adult Literacy Studies conducted in the late 1980s as well as other studies, defines and describes adult education in the United States by examining the perspective of the learner, presenting results, and identifying policy issues. The book continues by answering the basic questions of defining literacy, identifying the target population, exploring the learners’ motivation, and analyzing the results of current policy programs. The final chapters present implications and recommendations for policy and research.

The book raises some important questions about the goals of adult education and the need to understand that the way the problem is defined determines the solutions to be provided. Whether literacy is conceived as reading and writing, increasing productivity or enhancing participation in all aspects of work life, it will change the perspective on solving the issue. The book also makes a good point in bringing to light important aspects of the learners’ motivations and interests, which usually are not shared by policy makers’ interests. It also provides useful information in unveiling the reasons to participate in adult literacy programs and attempts to unveil some of the reasons why the large majority of the target population does not participate.

One of the main values of the book is its contribution to the dialogue between researchers and policy makers, drawing information from both fields and creating a useful bridge between the two. The objective analysis that Beder follows in his book leaves the reader with a better understanding of the complexities surrounding adult literacy programs. Although the policy recommendation section concludes with a call for “social change including the reallocation of educational, power, and monetary resources to the disadvantaged,” the overall tone of the book does not seem to provide elements for such a strong conclusion. While the book does not specifically cover the topic of retraining of the work force or adjusting the current educational programs to the present demands of the labor market, it provides a general review of the topic of adult literacy and some useful insights into policy issues.

Yael Duthilleul