Academic journal article Australian Journal of Adult Learning

Literacy, Lifelong Learning and Sustainable Development

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Adult Learning

Literacy, Lifelong Learning and Sustainable Development

Article excerpt

Lifelong learning and sustainable development

The continued prevalence of illiteracy in post-apartheid South Africa was found to have negative effects on development and social transformation, which prompted the government to launch the Kha Ri Gude (1) (Let Us Learn) Adult Literacy Campaign in 2008. The campaign aimed to address the issues of literacy and basic education, which are considered to be essential enablers for developing South Africa's poor, expanding their life choices (Department of Education, 1997, 2000, 2006), enhancing their participation in the social aspects of their lives, providing a foundation for justice and equality, and redressing historical imbalances (McKay, 2012, p. 5). In line with the National Education Policy Act 27 of 1996 (Department of Education, 1996), the campaign plan, which aimed to reach 4,7 million adult illiterates, included strategies for targeting women, rural inhabitants, out-of-school youth, the unemployed, prisoners, and adults with disabilities (McKay, 2015).

This paper aims to show the relationship between literacy as a foundational component of lifelong learning and the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs). I argue that through a deliberate effort to embed the teaching of reading, writing and numeracy into themes framed by (local, national and international) development imperatives, it is possible to enhance the impact on the developmental opportunities afforded by literacy.

I used a concurrent multi-method approach that combined obtaining qualitative and quantitative data in the same research enterprise. This entailed a quantitative analysis of the survey responses obtained from a sample of 485 941 literacy learners and a qualitative content analysis of 2 032 educators' monthly journals. Both sets of data were used to explore the learners' perceptions of the impact of literacy acquisition on the social, economic and developmental aspects of their lives.

I begin the article by looking at literacy from a lifelong learning perspective and then explore the rationale of using the SDGs to inform the thematic organisation of the learners' literacy materials. In the latter part of the paper, I discuss the survey of 485 941 learners, showing how they perceived the impact of literacy and numeracy on their lives. The survey findings are juxtaposed with the analysis of the narratives contained in the educators' monthly journals. Analsying educators' narratives have given rise to critical information of the campaigns' operations and impact (McKay & Romm, 2015).

In the following section, I explore SDG 4's call for the 'promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all' in relation to SDG sub-goal 4.6, which aims to ensure that 'all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy' (United Nations, 2015, p. 21).

Literacy in the context of lifelong learning

In a country such as South Africa where there are great inequalities, lifelong learning is regarded not only as a philosophy or an organising framework for learning but as a particularly important process for those who have been excluded from acquiring or have failed to acquire basic competences through formal schooling. In terms of a lifelong learning paradigm, literacy and numeracy are considered essential components of lifelong learning and as critical foundational components for further learning. The expanded remit for literacy in the United Nations post-2015 development agenda makes a case for literacy programmes that are structured in terms of levels of competency that would allow for alternative learning pathways that meet a diversity of formal and non-formal learning needs. It also presupposes that national policies incorporate literacy and basic education into their educational offerings and that these are calibrated in their national qualifications frameworks. Such calibration would require literacy standards and standardised tools to assess literacy proficiency and to monitor and validate learning progress and outcomes. …

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