23 SES 08 B, Adult Education Policies and Practices
Recently there has been a shift from adult literacy to adult basic education in Germany, largely resulting from the international discussion about basic skills and essential skills since the 1990s (cf. Linde 2007). The previous focus on reading and writing skills is considered to not be sufficient anymore for participation in society these days. Therefore a broader concept involving further skills is claimed. Especially education policy seizes on this issue of adult basic education: In 2012, German federal government and Laender initiated a national strategy for adult literacy and basic education with the aim to reduce the number of functional illiterates as well as the number of people with insufficient basic skills (cf. BMBF/KMK 2012). Due to sovereignty of the German Laender regarding cultural policies each state is challenged to implement the concept of adult basic education.
This is complicated as until now there is no clear agreement on the content of adult basic education. In general, basic education includes those minimum requirements of knowledge, skills, personal and social competencies that are essential to cope with society (Döbert 1999). But several different views concerning which knowledge and skills are considered to be essential exist – from narrow perceptions limited to reading and writing skills through to broader conceptions that include literacies in a broader sense and even take critical faculty, reflective faculty and the sense of responsibility into account (cf. UNESCO 2007). Adult basic education turns out to be between the poles of different agents’ interests and demands (cf. Tröster 2000, pp.17). Under the assumption that adult basic education cannot be fully understood without paying attention to those underlying power relations, the issue of defining this term in the context of adult education policy claiming to serve the common good is raised.
This contribution primarily focuses on the entanglement of the concepts of basic education, interests and power relations in the context of adult education policy. First, it reviews the international debate on the term of adult basic education. Different concepts of the term are outlined and linked to underlying agents’ interests and demands. Based on the results of a qualitative study, an in-depth analysis of the concept of adult basic education from the perspective of policy makers in Germany is illustrated. In addition to the question of what knowledge, skills and competencies adult basic education does include, the interviewees’ subjective reasons for deciding upon a certain concepts of literacy are illustrated. The connection between a certain definition of adult basic education and underlying interests and power relations, especially in the field of education administration and education policy, are of major concern.
The theoretical framework is constituted by two critical approaches that both allow for revealing hidden power relations regarding the definition of what is considered to be valuable within society and what is not. The New Literacy Studies understand literacy as social practice embedded in values, attitudes and bodies of knowledge within the sociocultural context. According to Brian Street (1992), views on literacy are fundamentally ideological and linked to power relations. Especially powerful social institutions such as schools have great impact on the definition of what literacies are considered valuable in a given societal context. They support dominant literacies while others are marginalised (cf. Barton/Hamilton 2009, pp.10). Pierre Bourdieu also emphasizes the impact of public (educational) institutions for establishing and reproducing power and hegemony by defining what is considered legitimate. According to him, state institutions monopolise symbolic violence especially within the political and bureaucratic field. While they guarantee acting in the interest of the common good, they tend to follow hidden particular interests at the same time (Bourdieu 2014).
Barton, D./Hamilton, M. (2009): Local literacies. Reading and writing in one community. London: Routledge BMBF/KMK (2012): Vereinbarung über eine gemeinsame nationale Strategie für Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung Erwachsener in Deutschland 2012 - 2016. URL: http://www.bmbf.de/pubRD/NEU_strategiepapier_nationale_alphabetisierung%281%29.pdf Bourdieu, P. (2014): Über den Staat (1989-1992). Berlin: Suhrkamp Döbert, M. (1999): Grundbildung. In: Lexikon. Wissenswertes zur Erwachsenenbildung. URL: http://socioweb.leuphana.de/lexikon/lex_geb/begriffe/grundbil.htm Linde, A. (2007): "Alphabetisierung", Basic Education, or Literacy. In: Grotlüschen, A./Linde, A. (Ed.): Literalität, Grundbildung oder Lesekompetenz. Beiträge zu einer Theorie-Praxis-Diskussion. Münster, New York: Waxmann, pp. 237–245 Meuser, M./Nagel, U. (1991): ExpertInneninterviews – vielfach erprobt, wenig bedacht. Ein Beitrag zur qualitativen Methodendiskussion. In: Garz, D./Kraimer, K. (Ed.): Qualitative empirische Sozialforschung: Konzepte, Methoden, Analysen. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, pp. 441–471 Strauss, A. L./Corbin, J. M. (1996): Grounded Theory. Grundlagen qualitativer Sozialforschung. Weinheim: Beltz, PsychologieVerlagsUnion Street, B. (1992): Sociocultural Dimensions of Literacy: Literacy in an International Context. In: UNESCO Institute for Education (UIE) (Ed.): The Future of Literacy and the Literacy of the Future, pp. 41–53 Tröster, M. (2000): Grundbildung - Begriffe, Fakten, Orientierungen. In: Tröster, M. (Ed.): Spannungsfeld Grundbildung. Bielefeld: Bertelsmann, pp.12–27 UNESCO (2007): Experts’ Consultation on the Operational Definition of Basic Education, 17-18 December 2007. Conclusions. URL: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001802/180253E.pdf
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