ProLiteracy is pleased to highlight “Ten Actions to Build an Adult Basic Skills Development System That Is More Inclusive, Relevant, Efficient, and Sustained,” by Paul J. Jurmo, independent consultant, Basic Skills for Development. This article is featured in the Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, ProLiteracy’s free online, peer-reviewed research journal created to inform practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and funders about best practices in adult literacy, numeracy, and English language education.
An excerpt of “Ten Actions to Build an Adult Basic Skills Development System That Is More Inclusive, Relevant, Efficient, and Sustained” is highlighted below.
Author's Note: This article was written before recent major events (e.g., COVID-19, economic downturn, increased social justice activism, and a presidential campaign) impacted our field and nation. While time limitations don’t allow me to update this document to reflect those new realities, the overall message is essentially the same: Adult learners, their families and communities, and our nation can benefit from an expanded and improved system of basic skills development opportunities. If adult educators and other stakeholders work together in thoughtful, creative ways, we can create such a system.
Since the 1980s, work-related adult basic skills programs in the United States have helped learners achieve personal goals, responded to policy requirements, and served other stakeholders including learners’ families and communities, employers and labor unions, and diverse service providers. The field has also generated valuable expertise adaptable for future efforts (Bergson-Shilcock, 2019; Bragg, 2019; Mortrude, 2017). However, as a field, we are also faced with significant challenges:
- Inclusiveness: We need to more adequately reach diverse populations and other stakeholders impacted by limited basic skills (Bernstein & Vilter, 2018; Hilliard & Dann-Messier, 2015; McHugh & Morawski, 2017; Patterson & Song, 2018; Pleasants McDonnell & Collins, 2017).
- Relevance: We need to better respond to the basic skills-related strengths, motivations, and needs of learners and other stakeholders (McHugh & Doxsee, 2018).
- Efficiency: We need to more consistently use effective strategies customized to serve learners, manage programs, and build support (Nash & Hewlett, 2017).
- Sustainability: Effective services must be learned from and sustained over time (Bragg, 2019; National Commission on Adult Literacy, 2008).
Observers have been raising such concerns about program quality and sustainability since the 1980s (Jurmo, 2020). Sometimes the field has adjusted policy and practice in response. However, these concerns have grown recently as poverty and other challenges (i.e., the changing world of work, declines in union membership, obstacles to integration of immigrants and former inmates into the workforce) have increased for basic-skills-limited adults.