Earlier this week, when I was reviewing International Literacy Day blog posts and news items, a sentence from this post on the Global Partnership for Education’s Education for All Blog, by Aaron Benavot, caught my eye:
“One reason for slow progress in enabling adults to acquire basic literacy skills is inadequate education in their childhood.”
It says something, I think, about the degree to which early childhood education is seen as a silver bullet in conventional policy circles that a perfectly well-meaning person can make such a statement without noticing that it contains a fundamentally illogical premise. Until we gain the power of time travel, helping adults acquire basic literacy skills by going back in time and improving the education they received as children is not a realistic policy strategy.
Improving childhood literacy is a worthy and important goal, but it can only have an impact on adult literacy rates in the future, and only the relatively distant future, when those children are actually adults (15-20 years in the future). I think that is what Benavot is trying to say. But, to be clear, it does nothing to improve current adult literacy rates. Nothing. Assuming we also want to improve adult literacy right now, or in the relatively near future—and we should be—we need to invest resources in efforts that actually address adult education. Right now. Otherwise we are punting on the current generation of low-skilled adults in favor of a strategy that is solely focused on investing in future generations. Not, I think, what this post is actually suggesting, but I think it’s fair to point out that this sentence futzes up this point, and that many early childhood education advocates seem to do so as well.