New Topic: What can we learn about adult basic skills from other countries?


Our discussions in the LINCS Communities of Practice usually are about adult basic skills in the U.S., and we often ignore good practices from other countries. Yet, we can learn from what works in other countries in adult literacy, adult basic skills, adult secondary education, English language learning, family and intergenerational literacy, nonformal education, integrating technology, formative and summative assessment and, of course, reading writing, numeracy, math, science and social science education for adults. We can learn about practices that have engaged adult learners,  that build social cohesion, that integrate reading, writing and numeracy, science and social studies content, and integrate each and all of these with the use of digital technology for learning and teaching.

I invite you to post in this discussion good practices in adult basic skills education that you may know of that are from other countries, perhaps that you have adopted or adapted for use in your own program, or that have been adopted or adapted by other programs in your state.

Let me begin by introducing a concept that is widespread in European countries, some African and Asian countries, and perhaps in others as well. It's often referred to as social inclusion. This is the opposite of social exclusion, that is sometimes called marginalization. One definition of inclusion, used by the World Bank, is "the process of improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of people, disadvantaged on the basis of their identity, to take part in society."  Here is a link to an article from the European Association for the Education of Adults about the role of adult literacy in building social inclusion It is about an award-winning adult literacy and social inclusion program in Portugal.

Are you aware of any adult basic skills programs in the U.S. whose mission, goals, or activities focus on social inclusion? If so, tell us about them.

David J. Rosen




Greetings David and all,

While working on my online course on adult education curriculum development, this week we have been discussing metacognition. One participant was concerned about the lack of formal research that formally assess the validity of metacognition. In doing an online search, I came across the following article, "Assessing metacognitive knowledge: Development and evaluation of a test instrument" (, written by three professors from Germany. while I have not had time to review the article, it does, in response to your query, provide another window into adult education research that can help us (those in the (US) enhance our own understanding of the field.

The issue that you raise of social inclusion is an obviously important one. To what extent do our adult education classrooms and programs foster long-term learning communities.

Thanks for drawing our attention to the importance of adult education programs, practices, and initiatives outside the US. Clearly, there is a great deal to explore.

George Demetrion



Here are two ideas for how to make stories and books more accessible to students at your program:

1) From Australia, a book 'vending machine'

2) Maybe you don't have $20,000 for a book vending machine, but there is a free, low-tech, widely tested U.S. alternative called Little Free Libraries . You may have seen these in your neighborhood. People leave books they no longer need, and take books they haven't read yet. Is there an equivalent to a Little Free Library at your adult basic skills program? If so, tell us about it, how it works, how adult learners use it and what they might like about it.

Do either of these ideas spark thoughts for how you can get more hard copy print materials in the hands of adult learners in your program? If so, tell us what you are thinking -- or doing.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Program Management CoP



Here's an article about a literacy class in Toronto, Ontario where, because unaffordable and precarious housing was on many students' minds, distracting them from concentrating on improving their reading on writing skills, the teacher changed her lesson plan, which had focused on news clippings, to reading, writing and discussing housing issues.

Do students in your program or classes experience unaffordable or precarious housing? Would the approach in this article be -- is it already -- one that you use?  Does your program provide housing counseling services, or referrals to a housing counseling service? Tell us about how your program addresses unaffordable housing, a common problem for low-income adult learners.

David J. Rosen. Moderator

Program Management CoP


 Friends, This book is on my to read list and I think you may find Evicted: Poverty and Property in American Cities relevant. However, you could use the following reading guide to generate classroom discussions or writing prompts without reading the book. 




From Australia, a community adult literacy approach, inspired by a Cuban adult literacy model that operates in dozens of countries, shows evidence of great success in reaching aboriginal people.

The ‘Yes I Can!’ model uses a campaign approach to improving adult and family literacy. Communities that formerly had very low levels of adult literacy have shown literacy education completion rates of more than 65 per cent, "five times higher than Indigenous students’ completion rates for formal, accredited Foundations Skills courses run through the national vocational education and training (VET) system, which aim to get students to a similar level on the Australian Core Skills Framework."

A key to the success is the model of teacher-training developed by the Cubans. "Students learn to learn and teachers learn to teach by following lessons on DVD, in a series of dramatised episodes that follow the passage of five students through the process of learning literacy. The teachers watch the DVD during lesson preparation with advisors, they then follow the modelling provided by the teachers on the DVD and teach the lesson by showing the DVD to the students and helping them complete the activities which the ‘actor-students’ are doing on the DVD."  The project evaluator, Dr. Bob Boughton, says that the training and engagement of local Aboriginal community members as literacy teachers is critical to the success. He "observes that 'it’s often their family members who are the teachers, and that means the students are much more willing to participate in the classroom.' "

Is your program in an ethnic community in the U.S. where adult literacy success could be enhanced by a model like this, one that is aligned with the community norms?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Program Management CoP



David, this is a very good article and you raise an excellent point: “Is your program in an ethnic community in the U.S. where adult literacy success could be enhanced by a model like this, one that is aligned with the community norms?”

In any diverse or ethnic community there are two literacy issues – Native language literacy and English literacy. At the same time, people may be literate in their native language but probably could use additional instruction. So, one focus of adult education should be on Native language literacy, from beginners to advanced. In this area there are a few Spanish literacy courses online that are for adult learners.

As far as English literacy is concerned, one issue that grows out of being “aligned with the community norms” is that of incorporating a bilingual model in teaching beginners. Learning English bilingually is the norm among adult learners. And using a bilingual model is very important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that English is very difficult to pronounce and therefore read and understand. Difficulties in pronouncing English hinder the learning process and actually cause a great deal of stress, leading to a high dropout rate. On the other hand a bilingual and phonetic approach, such as my pumarosa program, is very useful and students are much more likely to have motivation to learn.

The Drop-In Center plan that I posted a few weeks ago resembles the Australian plan that you described. Students are more likely to help or teach each other, and families can attend sessions to learn how to set up a family learning environment. Actually, in this context, students can be trained to be “tutors” so that the program can expand with ease. Textbooks accompany the classes, as well as CDs, and, in addition, there are many videos and websites online that people learn to use in studying English. The Smart Phone also plays an important role.

In any case, Adult Eduction Drop-In Centers can be set up in libraries, community based organizations, community colleges, etc. Eventually we will have formed a network, care to join?

Paul, and others,

If you have recommended online videos and websites for adults who learn English studying on their own or in nonformal models like learning circles or drop-in centers please share your list with us in the English Language Acquisition (ELA) group on LINCS. 


David J. Rosen

I have had visions, thoughts, feelings and convictions centered around nonformal education for years but I have not been able to articulate them in a nice compact way. Today I was introduced to a Japanese term that completely articulates my thoughts and I am so excited by this discovery! The term is Ikigai and it is probably best described with the following illustration:

Image removed.

If we can help our adult learners discover What they love, What the world needs, What can be paid for, and What the person is good at, true education for that individual can begin. The education process is in learning how to blend these four elements together to have a successful and productive life. It can't be Googled and all of us may benefit from a guide to help us on our journey of discovery!

In today's world I worry that academic success may not be sufficient for our adults to find happiness, security, or productivity. Academic success may help one survive, but it will not help them live a good life as academics may have once offered when we were much younger. What if Ikigai were the focus of education? Would we still be able to check off CCRS standards along the way? Would we be able to help learners set goals, track progress and assess levels of success along the way? Would it inspire our learners with more and more motivation with the successes they experience? Most of all, would it create happy, healthy individuals that help contribute to community? 

I emphatically feel there is a resounding "Yes!" to each of these questions, but I would love to hear challenges or opposition or questions this concept raises with others. What are your thoughts? Do you know anyone or were you raised with ikigai as a life focus (assuming they or you were from Japan)? I would love to learn more about this and I am happy to have found an illustration that so nicely fits the beliefs I have had for much of my educational career, but I have not been able to so eloquently articulate or put together.

Hello Ed and others,

Borrowing the now familiar "Career Pathways" concept that people can achieve careers with family sustaining wages a step at a time, and not necessarily in a linear fashion, what would "Ikigai pathways" look like? For example, would there be an equivalent of a "Career Navigator," an "Ikigai Navigator,"  to help people to move toward the overlapping Ikigiai at the center of the diagram?

In the diagram, those who achieve their career paths might be "comfortable", but have a "feeling of emptiness." Should career pathway navigators and others be conscious of this possibility and also help people to achieve Ikigai, not just success in a career pathway, and family-sustaining salaries, but something more that is connected to what they love and what the world needs?

Anyone else have thoughts about this?

David J. Rosen

I could see an Ikigai navigator working with individuals to help the person explore the 4 basic aspect as it relates to the individual. Some of this navigation would necessitate some metacognition, self assessment, career exploration, and even community awareness explorations to assess local or state needs. As students gain success in identifying the 4 basic elements, the second level would be to learn more about the intersections between each pair of basic aspects. What I am unsure about is the little triangular intersections that each have text pulled out of the graphic. I see those little triangles as part of a self diagnostic in a way. Many adults can easily associate with some of the feelings presented in each of those triangles. Individuals can feel very successful but they lack a sense of "completeness" and those little triangles can help identify missing pieces. 

As I have explored the pathways materials available and the workshops I have attended, I have always had some nagging feeling that something was missing. I do believe that the "feeling of emptiness" accurately describes many that have entered the workforce. We don't teach people how to find passions or missions in life and that makes happiness in any new work environment a bit of a crap shoot. I see many of our young 20s students becoming weary from so many "dead" jobs. These are jobs in which the individual does not feel valued, does not feel they are making a difference in their own life or in the lives of others, the job has no enjoyable aspects at all, and very often the job does not appear to have any end goals that the individual gets excited about. The job is simply taken as a means of survival so often, individuals are loosing the ability to even comprehend that passion or a sense of mission could possibly factor into the employment aspect of their life. We spend so much time getting the person into the workplaces that have the best data concerning "success" and yet so little effort into discovering who the individual really is in terms of loves and how those loves can be merged with skills and community needs. 

I have asked a few adult learners "What do you love?" or "What do you love to do?" since I first posted my link a couple of days ago. I am consistently getting shrugs, and very little self realization. Survival has taken center stage and discovering who we are has taken a back seat for many. I feel we need to help learners make time for learning about themselves more. 

What do others think? I wonder if it would be interesting to do a survey of all reading this to see how each of us might self assess ourselves in the different elements of Ikigai? I know I can point to strengths and weaknesses in myself when looking at the diagram descriptions, can you? 

I do, much, love the idea of remembering "vocation" as well as "job."   I also see people who've never believed that their job could connect with what they love.   They're too busy working to have time to do that... and it made me think of the old Jimmy Buffett song that includes "My occupational hazard being... my occupation's just not around..."    

      I also think it's worth exploring using "informal" or "guerrilla" education to find ways to meet material needs while exploring one's own passions,  and meeting a need joyfully, no matter what New Jargon Name is tagged to it :) 

Hi everyone,

The ikigai model is lovely and I can see a role for an ikigai navigator or coach that shouldn't look that distinct from what quality student-centered career navigation and coaching looks like in our setting (where there are resources to support navigation and coaching at a reasonable caseload).   What I mean is that student-centered career exploration and counseling process must include explicit attention to and discovery of each student's life and work values and priorities, that is what motivates them and drives their work (in any given period of time, since it changes).  It should also include reflection and discovery of what they love to do, not just what they are good at or what their skill assessment indicates. Finally, research into labor market data, scans of local job postings, interviews with employers and workers in jobs of interest, fleshes out the specifics about what you can be paid to do (even if it's not what the world needs). As far as I'm concerned, our job is to help students make the right match after exploring all of these factors (and more) with our guidance, not just to load them into "pathways" and "high demand jobs".  I think if a student has a passion for something that isn't on the high demand occupation list, we can help them think about what they are willing to do to make that a reality and if entirely unrealistic (in the short- or long-term) then help them think about what's attractive to them about that work and how to seek those elements in something more accessible, attainable, and realistic. 

I'm not trying to claim that we already practice an Ikigai approach in our settings(and my knowledge of this approach goes only as far as the diagram that Ed posted). But I do want to claim, then when career coaching or navigation or practiced according to a process identified in the Integrating Career Awareness curriculum guide  or according to the National Career Development Association and other professional guidelines guidelines, there are overlapping elements.

LINCS Colleagues,

The East African country of Rwanda, already relatively advanced in using computers and the Internet, is launching a new initiative to narrow the digital divide. They want to train 5,000 young people to take on the role of ‘digital ambassadors’ and, in turn, improve the digital skills of five million Rwandans.

Should adult basic skills programs (including ABE, ASE and ESOL/ESL ) in the U.S. train adult learners to be "digital ambassadors" to work with students and others in the community who are on the other side of the digital divide? Should this be a major new philanthropic initiative in the U.S.?

What do you think?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Program Management CoP




In Tunisia, some taxi drivers provide for their passengers reading materials such as poetry, novels, and psychology books. Taxi Libraries are sponsored by a literary initiative launched in October 2016 by online book-sharing platform YallaRead (“Come on, Read” in Arabic) in collaboration with E-Taxi, an Uber-style cab-hailing service.  Would ride-share libraries in the U.S. add to the growing number of barbershops and doctors' offices that encourage families to read, and to the neighborhood Little Free Libraries that seem to be springing up in many communities?

In Liberia, West Africa, during the height of the civil war, when there was almost nothing to read, a Liberian colleague in Monrovia created book chains. He received shipments of reading books from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere and gave the books to people who made an agreement not to return them but, after they finished reading the book, to give it to someone else who would make the same agreement, to read  the book and pass it on. The book chain project eventually led to forming Liberia's first public library, that exists today and is widely used by children and adults.

Would book chains be a good idea for adult literacy programs in the U.S., perhaps in partnership with public libraries that need to remove some books from their collections to make room for new ones? If so, how could these book chains be organized? How about ride-share libraries? Do you know ride-share or taxi drivers who might like that idea?

What other ways could you imagine supporting reading in your community?

David J. Rosen, Moderator

Program Management CoP

I love the book chain idea!  It reminds me of geocaches.  People find the cache and sign their names.  This gives me a wonderful idea.  I think we should start this initiative at our project by having book chain participants sign the inside cover and pass it on.  We could set up a discussion group people could join.  I love it, love it, love it!

Hello Morgan,

I wonder if you have started the book chain at your project and, if so, if you can tell us how it's going.

Everyone: Is anyone else using book chains?

David J. Rosen



   ... but this slide show was just shared from the Open Ed 17 conferences that's happening in Anaheim now

One of our programs for social inclusion was an English conversation group called "Talk Time."  It never really took off.  I've been thinking that perhaps we could try a play dates for parents and children where members of the community could mingle with our students.  Many of our students are parents, so it might just work!  Our challenge has been getting native English speakers to participate.


As you may know, Finland has one of the world's leading education systems, with outstanding education outcomes, and -- even so -- frequently examines how well its currently successful models will serve children and adults over the upcoming decades. They are in the process now of reforming career and technical education as well as K-12 education. This article from the U.S. National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) briefly describes what's happening in Finland. I found the sections below of particular interest. (I have bolded text I found especially important.) What do you find interesting in this article? Are you keeping an eye on Finland's education reforms that we may want to emulate in the U.S.?

For adults who want to further their education or increase their skill levels, programs and classes are available, whether the ultimate goal is learning to read or earning a master’s degree. Adults who did not complete upper secondary school may take courses in order to earn a general education certificate or vocational qualification; they can strengthen their education in certain subject areas, or they may take non-degree or diploma courses. Adult participation in lifelong learning (26.4 percent) in Finland is much higher than the EU average (10.8 percent in 2016). Education for adults is divided into three categories: self-motivated, self-training, and labor market training. Self-motivated learning falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Culture, while the other two categories come under the purview of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

Current Reforms

The Finnish government is implementing a series of reforms in 2018, with the goal of improving the status of VET in Finnish society. The funding system and structure will be reformed while keeping the various existing educational pathways. One goal is to increase learning in more authentic workplace settings. Another is to make it easier to enter vocational education by enabling students to apply throughout the year and begin training at different points in the year. The government will increase its investment in VET in order to ease the administrative and financial burden on employers. VET financing and associated legislation will be streamlined by combining the financing systems of upper secondary VET, continuing VET, apprenticeship training, and labor market courses into a single entity. Furthermore, the number of existing qualifications will be cut from 360 to 150, enabling students and employers to more easily navigate and interpret qualifications and making them more broad-based.

David J. Rosen, Moderator LINCS CoP Program Management group


The European Association for Education of Adults has an interesting article about their Financing  Investments in Adult Education (Finale) Project, focused on why an increased investment is needed in adult basic skills.  Below are some tantalizing excerpts. I wonder if any of these resonate with you, and if so why. Is there anything here that you think we should be paying more attention to in the U.S.?

"These benefits include, among others, a higher income and better employability of individuals, a higher general well-being and health, a greater social inclusion and engagement in volunteer activities, a greater capacity for innovation and a higher competitiveness, as well as developing democracy and ensuring tax payments from citizens."

"The FinALE Policy Recommendations state: 'If, for example, one family member starts learning, there will be an impact on the other family members. Particularly smaller children in the household tend to benefit from their parents’ learning. The range of potential benefits is very wide, and often includes, among many others, a better family well-being as a result of the higher self-fulfilment of the learning family member, increased health of the family due to higher health awareness, better family finances and career options, as well as a better capability to support other family members with their learning. Often, the learners become role models for other family and community members who then follow with their own learning pathways.' ”

"The FinALE project therefore recommends to collect more data on the impact of adult education, but also that any evaluation of adult education returns should cover a full range of personal, community and economic benefits, and to include the use of social rate of return techniques. Learner stories can be an effective tool to raise awareness about the benefits of adult education as they take a long-term perspective into account."

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Program Management group



The first of these excerpts drew me back to the current issues facing states in the U.S. that are currently considering plans for requiring Medicaid recipients to be engaged in some form or education, training, employment, or volunteerism.  

"These benefits include, among others, a higher income and better employability of individuals, a higher general well-being and health, a greater social inclusion and engagement in volunteer activities, a greater capacity for innovation and a higher competitiveness, as well as developing democracy and ensuring tax payments from citizens."

While the Medicaid issue in the U.S. includes different facets beyond just adult education, this project provides a more holistic view of the benefits that education has on a population, and the larger community.  I'm hopeful that states in the U.S. will consider policy recommendations like this as they look more closely at the impact of connecting Medicaid eligibility to better overall outcomes for adults.

I'm curious what others are seeing.  Do you see adult education stakeholders in your states connecting funding requests to improved employment, civic, and healthcare outcomes?   Does this seem like a good approach for better funding of adult education?  Why, or why not?


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator

In response to David's request for ideas from other countries, here are a few items for your consideration (which I recently posted to the AAACE-NLA discussion group to contribute to a discussion of "how can we help adult learners protect their rights as workers"): 

Related to our discussion of how to support worker well-being, here is an article from today's NY Times that describes an alternative business model that emphasizes worker economic security. (Note that education is an important part of this model. And Cleveland is mentioned, too.)

One of the best workplace basic skills projects I ever worked in was a numeracy program for members of a farmer co-operative in West Africa.  The program was launched to help farmers protect themselves against being cheated when they sold their produce at the end of a back-breaking growing season. Highly motivated learners; a participatory curriculum customized to a common, real-world interest; energetic young extension workers who served as facilitators; a central team committed to providing necessary supports (e.g., professional development, equipment, teaching materials) to classes at the village level; and integration of the numeracy classes with other co-operative activities.  This program was funded by US taxpayers through the US Agency for International Development.

And, speaking of USAID, it continues to fund similar integrated development programs around the world.  For example, it is now in the early stages of developing a national leadership development program targeted to youth (later teens to early 20s) in Ethiopia. The model will integrated basic education, higher education, health services, and economic/workforce development activities.  It recognizes the many interwoven challenges that youth in that beautiful country face.  

Our field should learn from these international models to help us develop more effective ways to integrate basic education with efforts to renew our economic, health, environmental, criminal justice, democratic, and other vital systems.

Paul Jurmo