Exchange on measurement of low levels of proficiency in literacy
In the context of the 60th Anniversary of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), an ancillary meeting was held on the subject of measuring literacy levels. Methods and approaches used in various countries were discussed. The meeting was attended by 28 policy-makers and researchers from OECD member states as well as countries outside the OECD. The objectives of the meeting were to enhance cooperation and network building and to initiate specific joint projects. With regard to the latter aim, a fruitful debate took place on possible cooperation between France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Germany through a joint bid for ORA funding (Background: In June 2012, the European Union will publish a funding line for cooperation (Open Research Area, “ORA”) between Humanities and Social Researchers of these countries. The deadline for the submission of related proposals will be in September 2012.) This would constitute a big step towards making national studies on literacy comparable and harmonizing approaches across borders.
Adult literacy is often measured on a scale of 1 to 5 with regard to prose and document literacy. The participants advocated an intensified international debate focusing on the measurement of the lower rungs of the level 1 category. In the exchange of experiences among participants at the meeting, two major ways of measuring literacy rates were highlighted: (1) Gathering literacy data on the basis of self-assessment; (2) measuring the distribution of literacy levels by testing. While the former is quicker and cheaper, the results of the latter are more in-depth, more reliable and more convincing.
It was felt that international initiatives such as OECD’s Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) would help to give the topic of adult literacy greater prominence in public debate.
Another concrete result of the meeting was the establishment of a network via the creation of an initial mailing list. This will be an important tool in placing the subject on the agenda of more European and international congresses and conferences. Furthermore, it was stipulated that, in the various countries, proposals should be submitted to the national research agencies to join the ORA initiative and promote national or multinational projects for testing literacy and improving national adult literacy rates.