Adult literacy benefits? New opportunities for research into sustainable development

  • 31 October 2016

Volume 62, Issue 6, pp 751–770

Author: David Post (Department of Education Policy Studies, College of Education, Pennsylvania State University)

Abstract

Understandings of “literacy” broadened after the United Nations Development Decade of the 1960s. The corresponding research into the benefits of literacy also widened its focus beyond economic growth. The effects of adult literacy and its correlates appeared diffuse with the rise of New Literacy Studies, and the scholarship on consequences seemed less essential to advocates following the rise of a human rights perspective on education. In 2016 the agenda for literacy research has returned – but at a higher level – to concern over its benefits. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have reintegrated literacy research within an agenda to understand the channels through which literacy skills might effect change. This article briefly reviews progress in adult literacy, touches on existing perspectives on literacy, and then illustrates four recent sources of information useful in the revitalised agenda offered by the SDGs. Data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Values Survey (WVS), and the World Bank’s Skills Toward Employment and Productivity (STEP) study are now available to researchers wishing to link educational change with attitudinal and behavioural change. Another important resource are the emerging data on mobile learning. By integrating literacy into the SDGs, literacy researchers can reveal the channels through which literacy can contribute to social welfare and transformation.

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