Adult Foundational Education: Why a New Name and Definition Is Needed
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on November 17, 2022 in categoryFacts & Research

In the current issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, David Rosen, a steering committee member of the Open Door Collective, raises the idea that we need a new term to describe our field.  

The Open Door Collective has thought deeply about how to best describe the field and believes adult literacy, adult education, adult basic education, etc. do not adequately describe the full range of services provided.  

Rosen has written about this before on the blog, arguing that adult foundational education is a better name. In the journal, he goes further into this idea with an essay to kick off the Forum. Read an excerpt from the journal article:  

What name do you use to describe our field? Adult literacy? Adult education? Adult education and literacy? Adult basic education? Adult ESL or ESOL? Which name best describes our work? Which name do you think is preferred, and why? Which of these is not sometimes interpreted to mean something else? Which, if any, best distinguishes our work from that of those who work in credit-bearing post-secondary education or PreK-12 education? Which, if any, best captures the full range of education services the field offers? 

The answer to most of those questions, other than that they all distinguish education for adults from PreK-12, is “none of the above.” For example, the name “adult education,” while it has the advantage of including the fullest range of our field’s services, often confuses policy makers and the general public who assume we are referring to higher education, or to non-credit courses offered in higher education or by local community education centers, often for enrollees’ personal development. 

“Adult basic education,” which is the name used by most practitioners in my state for example, has the advantage of distinguishing the field from higher education and PreK-12, but it has two meanings, one referring to the full range of education services, the other referring only to the (non-ESOL) services ranging up to pre-high school equivalency. Similarly, adult literacy is confusing to policy makers and the general public because sometimes it refers to the full range of services, often including ESL (or ESOL). However, at other times it means specifically beginning reading; beginning reading and writing; beginning reading, writing and numeracy, and recently I have seen adult literacy mean reading, writing, numeracy, and digital literacy. 

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