Friday, June 27, 2008

Challenges in Adult Ed

Failure to reach out to the needy adult community doesn't all stem from program inefficiency, as the "Quick Take" at Inside Higher Ed struck me. The full report noted in the IHE article addresses high attrition and failure, often caused in part by

*lack of funding from local, state and federal agencies

*schedule and financial challenges specific to a needier population

*bureaucratic misunderstanding of what these adults really need in the classroom (staffing, materials, time, etc.)

*refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming numbers of adult students coming to the classroom with learning disabilities; students who require accommodations and in many cases, screening and/or costly testing

*lack of other resources that prevent learning (i.e. poor health literacy, little access to health care, inadequate family support, no child care)

Adults struggling with literacy issues need to feel welcome and be encouraged to come to class. Any number of setbacks can prevent success including the system itself. Traditionally, these students have not done well in systems; their trust in any system has been seriously damaged.

When a policy such as the "immigration resolution" (its original name) is implemented, ESOL students in particular feel more daunted than ever no matter what their legal status. Students who work hard to assimilate and to learn English language, civics and culture fear their ethnicity, accent, or social status (not their immigration status) will cause them and their families undue hardship. Reluctance to trust any institution contributes to the vicious circle of stress, segregation, isolation, lack of education, and social strife. The cost on society is much larger than the ESOL/Adult Ed programs themselves.

When only one aspect of education is addressed, we can't expect the same kind of results we see on campus with students who have access to a fuller range of services. Adult learners have different needs than those who make it to the college level. If a learner is able to succeed in an adult ed program, though, life can truly change for him/her. These students come out of the classroom with an "I can do it!" mentality that translates into the family, the work place, and society.

We need to encourage that attitude and success for everyone's benefit.

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