COVID-19 and its Impact on Adult Literacy Programs
Posted by on June 26, 2020 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryStories from the FieldcategoryCEO DeskcategoryNewscategoryAdvocacy

ProLiteracy recently surveyed its member programs and New Readers Press customers to gauge how local literacy programs and their students are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our survey was open from May 11, 2020 through June 1, 2020, and it yielded 392 responses. Key findings from the survey include the following:

Adult literacy programs employ remote learning

  • 85% of adult literacy programs indicated that while their classroom location is physically closed, they are reaching students through some method(s) of remote learning.

Programs are using digital, phone, and print for remote learning

  • 89% of adult literacy programs indicated they we were using an online platform (e.g., Zoom, Google Classroom, Skype, WhatsApp) for remote learning, followed closely by phone calls/texting (82%), and printed instructional material sent to students (62%).

In order to scale remote learning, programs need training, funding, and digital/print curriculum

  • Programs cited “training for staff on digital learning tools” as their number 1 remote learning need (59%). Many adult literacy programs rely on retired, volunteer tutors who don’t have the experience or knowledge to facilitate remote learning using technology. Programs also need “additional funding” (54%), “digital English language learning content” (50%), and “print instructional content that also has a digital component” (48%) to scale remote learning impact.

Adult literacy students need technology devices, digital connectivity, and online training for remote learning

  • While the research indicated that the majority of adult basic education students have smartphones, programs indicated that students need larger screen format devices (e.g., tablets, laptops) to effectively learn, study, and communicate online. In addition, many adult basic education students can’t afford the broadband or Wi-Fi connections at their home that are needed for a remote learning environment.

Adult literacy programs are unsure of future funding sources

  • Programs are turning to a variety of funding sources to keep operations intact during COVID-19, and they are concerned about, or in some cases already experiencing, funding cuts. Funding sources include federal and state funding (WIOA), individual donors, local community based organizations, local businesses, United Way, and local libraries.

Uncertainty as to when physical adult basic education classroom locations will resume

  • 55% of adult basic education programs indicated they have no information or guidance from their state as to when they can re-open in-person classrooms. 23% of programs said they would open later than June 2020.

When they do re-open, adult basic education programs have many concerns related to the impact of COVID-19 on students and staff.

In order of importance, here are the concerns that adult basic education programs listed about re-opening in-person classrooms:

  • Students dropping out. Many adult basic education students are the first to lose their jobs in an economic downturn and the last to get their jobs back. Many work in the service and hospitality segments that have been hard hit by COVID-19. Students are concentrating on basic needs such as food, shelter, and employment.
  • Restrictions on social distancing. Even if they re-open, many programs indicated that social distancing is not conducive to small classroom instruction and one-on-one tutoring. In addition, older volunteer tutors are less likely to want to return to a classroom setting in the near term.
  • Programs funding/support. Adult basic education programs, many of which are nonprofit organizations, face an uncertain funding future. Many indicated they have enough operating funds on hand for a few more months under current COVID-19 conditions, but their future may depend on the government passing stimulus funding that includes support for adult basic education.
  • Economic hardship of staff and students. Many jobs in adult basic education involve modest salaries or volunteer positions. In addition, students are often marginalized due to lack of economic and education opportunities.
  • Availability of paid or volunteer staff. Adult basic education programs historically see increased demand during downturns in the economy. Many programs worry that they will not have the staff or resources to meet that demand.


If you would like to support the work of local adult basic education programs, ProLiteracy has set up the Literacy Relief Fund created to provide direct relief to adult literacy programs, tutors, and students.



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