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The findings > Thematic Studies> Literacy>Part 5
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5. CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE
 
 
The international statistics on literacy in the year 2000, dramatic as they are, do not fully reveal the endemic problems associated with adult literacy work in today's world. The central issue, as with the broader field of education, is the quality of the education as it relates to the individual youth and adult learner. National campaigns and programmes have often gone wrong because of the need for too rapid progress and for economies of scale. This combination of factors has led to low motivation on the part of adult learners, and to poor outcomes in both learning achievement and participation rates. Literacy and adult education will need to focus more than ever before on which kinds and what levels of literacy are required for each society, as well as for specific groups within that society. What is needed is a greater focus on programme quality along the following themes: professional development, learner motivation, knowledge-based programme design, and increased openness to new approaches.
 
 
Professional development. The professional development of administrators, directors, teachers, and tutors is an ongoing and critical process for programme improvement in literacy and adult education. Volunteer-based programmes are an important component in many countries, but the tenure of the typical tutor is often too short to assure quality improvement. Since most countries (rich and poor) invest an extremely small fraction of available education resources in the non-formal sectors of adult education (relative to the formal school system), there is a compelling need to bring the matter of professionalization to the attention of policy makers. There is also a very important need to provide the teacher trainers with new and up-to-date instructional methods.
 
Learner motivation. The motivation of adult learners is a key dimension that either can promote participation and retention, or, when lacking, can lead to poor take up and retention of literacy and adult education programmes. In contrast to what was thought over recent decades, the challenge of motivation lies not in providing the "political will" of governments, but rather in finding ways to provide what the private sector terms, rather simply, "customer service." Thus, in order to reach the unreached and the most excluded (e.g., unschooled, women, ethnic-linguistic minorities, rural, and migrants) programmes will need to be tailored to address diverse needs, and have direct, discernable outcomes, and incentive-rich experiences. Building learner demand is one of the most pressing challenges in the broad field of adult education today.
 
 
Knowledge-based programme design. Much more needs to be done in order to build the knowledge base and expertise employed in the service of literacy and adult education. Relative to other education areas, few research studies are being produced in literacy and adult education in developing countries, and donor agencies have been too reluctant up until now in their support of serious evaluation studies or applied research. To move the field forward will require a greater emphasis on what works and what doesn't. Two promising avenues should be promoted in this regard in LDCs. First, institutions of higher education which train teachers (e.g. universities, colleges and institutes) should become more involved in literacy and basic education work, and provide up-to-date professional training to teachers in these fields. Second, such institutions, which are already well positioned in the area of Internet access, should become the loci for both receiving and disseminating information that can assist in building the local and regional knowledge base. Clearly, both of these are areas in need of further support from donor agencies.
 
 
 

Openness to new approaches. A striking aspect of adult literacy work is its relative isolation. For the most part in both developing and industrialized nations, literacy and adult education specialists and practitioners have little contact with mainstream specialists in education, and even less with sectors outside of education. There is an overall need to be open to the diversity of learners and in the contexts in which they reside, as well as to the tremendous expert resources that could be available to improve literacy work worldwide. No new approach is more obvious than technology, which has been taken up increasingly in the formal school settings, but has yet to have a serious impact into adult education in most countries. Indeed, in developing countries, the overall limitations in fiscal and human resources have meant that technology remains far from being implemented, even though substantial cost-effectiveness appears to be achievable. Furthermore, literacy and adult education work are in serious need of cross-fertilization from other sectors as well, even though the connections with such sectors as health, income generation, and so forth are now well documented. Finally, the role of NGOs is very important, as they represent a key source of innovation and dynamism that will be essential for promoting literacy in the coming decades through devolution and decentralization.

 

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