Key Terms and Definitions

Key Terms and Definitions

Literacy

The ability to understand, use, and respond appropriately to written texts.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), citing the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

An individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), section 203

The ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), as cited by the American Library Association’s Committee on Literacy

Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.
Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., Boyle, B., Hsu, Y., and Dunleavy, E. (2007). Literacy in Everyday Life: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NCES 2007–480)



Numeracy

The ability to use basic mathematical and computational skills.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), citing the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

The ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Framework for the Development of Adult Skills.

Numerate behavior involves managing a situation or solving a problem in a real context by responding to information about mathematical ideas that is represented in a range of ways and requires activation of a range of enabling knowledge, behaviors, and processes.
Adult Numeracy Network



Family Literacy

Family literacy is a term used to describe parents and children – or more broadly, adults and children – learning together. Also known as intergenerational literacy, and in some cases, community literacy, the rationale underlying such work is that parents (and adults in communities) are children’s first teachers; that much learning occurs beyond traditional school settings, and that learning is a life long process.
Ohio Literacy Resource Center, Kent State University



Adult Learner

Adult learners are individuals over the age of 16 “who did not complete their K- 12 education, or who possess a high school diploma or equivalent but nevertheless have gaps in basic skills such as reading, math, or spoken English.” Most are employed and are parents or primary caregivers of school-age children. Adult learners come to the library with a wealth of life experiences and knowledge. They are goal-oriented, focused on meaningful lessons and achievable goals, and motivated to learn.
American Library Association. (2019). Literacy for all toolkit, with quotation from National Skills Coalition. Adult education: A crucial foundation for middle-skill jobs.

About adult learners

  • Working poor or those looking for work: 64% of adults with low academic skills are employed. They earn low wages and lack the preparation to succeed in postsecondary education and most training.
  • Youth: Every year, over 2 million students drop out of high school in the United States. They join the 5.5 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. When they decide to complete their education, they enroll in adult education.
  • Immigrants: By 2030, it is projected that nearly one in five U.S. workers will be an immigrant. However, nearly 20 million U.S. adults have limited English proficiency. English instruction is an essential part of adult education.
  • Parents: Most adult learners are parents and primary caregivers of school-age children. Many are motivated to return to school by wanting to serve as better role models for their children and help their children succeed in school.

World Education. (2019). Adult ed facts.

Challenges for adult learners

For U.S. adults with low skills or low academic attainment, finding the time or resources to go back to school can be difficult because of family and work obligations … that may complicate participation in education or training.

  • Of the over 40 million adults at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 77 percent have children, and 44 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 63 million adults at the lowest levels of numeracy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 74 percent have children, and 42 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 31 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, nearly 49 percent are employed, 58 percent have children, and 32 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 58 million adults with no more than a high school diploma or equivalent, approximately 64 percent are employed, 71 percent have children, and 45 percent are both employed and have children.

National Center for Education Research. (2018). Family, Work, and Education: The Balancing Act of Millions of U.S. Adults

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