International Literacy Day 2016

ILD 2016 Poster

ILD 2016 Poster – Click for full size

Today is the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day (ILD), an annual observance promoted by UNESCO to “actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.”

UNESCO is celebrating ILD’s 50th anniversary under the banner “Reading the Past, Writing the Future,” in recognition of the past five decades of national and “international engagement, efforts and progress made to increase literacy rates around the world.”

The main global celebration of the day takes place at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, in the form of a two-day conference and the awarding of UNESCO’s International Literacy Prizes for 2016. In addition, a new program, the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL) will be launched. UNESCO calls GAL a “new and ambitious initiative to make all major stakeholders pull together to promote literacy as a foundation for lifelong learning.”

There are events, articles, and statements from government officials around the globe today to mark the occasion. ILD celebrations are generally more prominent outside of the Unites States, although many U.S. adult literacy programs mark the day as well. This UNESCO page has links to some of the more prominent ILD 2016 events.

I find that ILD provides a good opportunity to explore literacy efforts outside the U.S., and so I always take some time out on September 8 to explore ILD-related activities in other countries. If I have time today, I will post a few links.

For those of you who are fans of infographics, here is the official UNESCO ILD 2016 infographic (click on it to see the entire thing):

ILD 2016 - Link to Infographic

Links of Note 8/29/16

Donald Trump Taps Indiana Lawmaker’s Staffer to Craft School Choice Plan [Politics K-12 | EdWeek]
Rob Goad, who used to work for Indiana Rep. Luke Messer, is “the first adviser for Trump to focus specifically on education issues,” but apparently he will be focused on “school choice” issues.

How Much Slack is Left in US Labor Markets? [Conversable Economist]
Not much, according to Timothy Taylor. The bad news: “[W]hatever you dislike about the labor market cant really be blamed on the Great Recession any more. So if you’re worried about issues like a lack of jobs for low-wage labor, too many jobs paying at or near the minimum wage, not enough on-the-job training, not enough opportunities for longer-term careers, loss of jobs in sectors like manufacturing and construction, too much part-time work, inequality of the wage distribution, one can no longer argue that the issues will be addressed naturally as the economy recovers.(my emphasis)

Immigration Issues That Trump and Clinton Don’t Talk About (Much) [Roll Call]
“The presidential candidates have primarily butted heads over high-profile topics like border security, Syrian refugee resettlements, deportation policies, and a pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented U.S. residents. But back in Washington, members of Congress have a longer list of immigration issues to tackle, which have received less attention on the campaign trail.” Roll Call‘s list of their concerns includes: Cuban migration, EB-5 investor visas, guest worker programs, biometric entry-exit systems, and special visas for Afghan allies. Addressing immigrant education needs or integrating immigrants into the workforce? Didn’t make the cut.

Brain wiring needed for reading isn’t learned—it’s in place prior to reading [Ars Technica]
“By peeking at brain connections prior to the VWFA forming, doctors may be able to anticipate years in advance if kids will have reading difficulties or disorders such as dyslexia.”

New Study: Skills Gap in Manufacturing Mostly About Math and Reading Skills reported earlier this week on a soon-to-be published new study by Andrew Weaver of the University of Illinois and Paul Osterman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that takes a critical look at the claims of a skills shortages in the U.S. manufacturing sector.

The paper would appear to be a follow-up or expansion of a paper that Weaver and Osterman produced for the Economic Policy Institute in 2014.

In general, Weaver and Osterman find that U.S. manufacturers’ skills gap claims are overblown, and the most of time they are in fact able to hire the skilled workers they are looking for. But the paper is more nuanced than that. By looking more closely at the precise skills manufacturers are seeking, they were apparently able to identify the types of skills that, when in demand, are most closely associated with longer-term vacancies. What jumps out from their results is that the demand for higher-level math and reading skills is a much more significant predictor of long-term vacancies than other skills:

“What fits with conventional wisdom is higher-level math skills being predictive of having a higher level of long-term vacancies. The other predictive skill demand, surprisingly enough, is higher-level reading skills,” Weaver said. “This debate frequently gets framed as a pure science-, technology-, engineering- and math-skills shortage, but it turns out reading also is a robust predictor of longer-term hiring difficulty. It certainly gives a more nuanced picture of skill challenges in manufacturing, and it really cuts against many of the prevailing narratives about the American workforce.”

If true, this has important implications for adult education policy and the federal workforce system under WIOA, which in my experience is driven more often than not by an underlying assumption that math and literacy skills are essentially prerequisites for the attainment of the industry-specific and more technical skills that employers seek. In other words, while I know that there is an emphasis on program models that integrate both, there is a perception, on the ground, at least, that adult education essentially feeds the training system. That’s a bias that’s been baked into the system for some time. But what is suggested by this study is that the most urgent demand is for academic skills: workers who are highly skilled in math and reading, period. In other words, to put it simply, improving literacy (beyond even just basic literacy) would most directly address the skills gap (at least in manufacturing). Which in turn suggests, perhaps, a need for a greater emphasis in our workforce system in those skills—and perhaps an even greater challenge for adults in the manufacturing workforce with very low literacy to achieve not just greater proficiency but “higher-level” skills in both math and reading.

That’s my quick take. Take it with a grain of salt, as I haven’t had a chance to read the yet-to-be-released study, or even finish my first cup of coffee for the day. One thing missing from the story is whether the paper includes any discussion about the degree to which wage stagnation has created an appearance of a gap (i.e. the workers are there, just unwilling to accept the wages being offered), but based on Weaver and Osterman’s earlier work on the skills gap, I would expect that it is.

Update, 4:30pm ET: Fixed some typos and grammatical errors that made it into the original post, which was rather hastily constructed this morning. I should remember to finish that cup of coffee before pressing “send.”

International Literacy Day 2015

Today is International Literacy Day, an annual observance for focusing attention on the importance of literacy around the world. There are events in schools and communities around the globe today to mark the occasion.

The theme of International Literacy Day 2015 is “Literacy and Sustainable Societies.” UNESCO notes that “[l]iteracy skills are the prerequisite for the learning of a broader set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required for creating sustainable societies,” while at the same time, “progress in areas of sustainable development, such as health and agriculture, serves as an enabling factor in the promotion of literacy and literate environments.”

International Literacy Day celebrations are generally more prominent outside of the Unites States, although many U.S. adult literacy programs mark the day with events or announcements. This UNESCO page has links to some of the more prominent ILD 2014 events.

For those of you who are fans of infographics, here is the official UNESCO ILD 2015 infographic (click on it to see the entire thing):