The term “family literacy” can be used to refer to literacy practices within families as well as to an intergenerational educational programme that promotes the development of literacy and related life skills. As a field of specialisation, it is a recent approach that is nevertheless based on the most ancient of educational traditions: intergenerational learning. The term “family literacy” was first used in the USA by Denny Taylor (1983) to describe the rich and diverse uses of literacy within homes and communities. The idea of promoting more structured ways of using literacy in the home and community environment was first developed in the USA at the end of the 1980s. Family literacy programmes were then extended to Europe in the 1990s, primarily in the UK, before being embraced by other world regions over the past decade.
UNESCO promotes family literacy as a holistic approach that contributes towards achieving EFA Goals 1 (the expansion and improvement of comprehensive early childhood care and education); 2 (universal primary education); and 4 (achieving a 50 per cent increase in adult literacy levels by 2015). Furthermore, it contributes towards EFA Goal 5 (achieving gender equality in education by 2015) by targeting women, many of whom want to participate in literacy programmes in order to be able to help their children during the early stages of their school education.
Family literacy programmes can play a particularly critical role in educating difficult-to-reach populations that are not catered for adequately by traditional educational systems. Moreover, family literacy and learning programmes can help to overcome artificial barriers between formal, non-formal and informal learning by recognising all forms of learning in different settings – at home, at school, in the community – and by encouraging all age groups – children, adolescents, youth, adults and the elderly – to interact in family and community life, and learn together. The education of children and adults should not be treated as two separate fields, for they are intertwined, and the family – in its broader sense – establishes the foundations for lifelong learning.
UIL is engaged in promoting family literacy by compiling and disseminating good practice and research. The Institute is also involved in capacity-building activities in a number of countries.