Confintea VI and Beyond

April 8th, 2009

ELF was present at Confintea V (Hamburg Germany, 1997), which declared that adult learning is 1) a right, 2) a tool, 3) a joy, and 4) a shared responsibility.

I don’t think that Confintea VI (Belem Brazil, 2009) needs to add further to this list of roles and reasons for adult learning. The spirit that should prevail is captured by the slogan “From rhetoric to action.”

Perhaps it may need to re-emphasize the continuity “from literacy to lifelong learning.” Up to now, many governments limit their interpretation of adult learning to basic literacy, and this is understandable since over 770 million adults are classified as illiterate. Hence one of the 6 goals of Education for All (EFA 2015) is to cut in half the number of illiterate adults by 2015.

In the Philippines, we still await the results of the 2008 FLEMMS survey. This should update the figures on basic literacy and functional literacy. I do not think the figures for basic literacy will change much. In the 2003 FLEMMS survey, 93.4 percent of Filipinos and Filipinas 10 years old and above were basically literate.

However, the figures for functional literacy could be much lower than the 84.1 percent in 2003. Part of the reason is that the Literacy Coordinating Council has adopted a more demanding definition of functional literacy:

“Functional Literacy is a range of skills and competencies – cognitive, affective and behavioral – which enables individuals to live and work as human persons, develop their potential, make critical and informed decisions, and function effectively in society within the context of their environment and that of the wider community (local, regional, national, global) in order to improve the quality of their life and that of society.”

Compare this new definition of functional literacy to that used in 2003:

Persons who can only read and write are considered basically literate (Level 1). Persons who can read, write and compute (Level 2) and persons who can read, write, compute and comprehend (Level 3) are considered as functionally literate.

Hence, a functionally literate person is one who can read, write and compute or one who can read, write, compute and comprehend. Persons who graduated from high school or completed a higher level of education were automatically considered functionally literate in the tabulations.

I was part of a technical working group that drew up questions for the 2008 FLEMMS that would reflect this new definition. Our apprehension is that given the new, more demanding standards, there is great likelihood that a much lower percentage of Filipinos and Filipinas will qualify as functionally literate.

And yet this more demanding definition is more aligned with the spirit of Confintea. While we look to basic literacy as the entry point to lifelong learning, we emphasize the open-ended horizons of adult learning.

Ed dela Torre/April 7, 2009

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