About the project Partnership Online registration Contact Disclaimer
Country information
Web platform
Multiplier Seminar





In the 1970s functional illiteracy was already understood as a problem in Austria. Different corresponding measures have been taken: Media campaigns, call in centres, overall course offers etc. It was only in 1990 when the first pilot project was started in Austria, one year after the UN´s "International Literacy Year". The project, funded by the Ministry of Education and Arts, was located at the "Volkshochschule Floridsdorf", an adult education centre in the 21st district of Vienna. The concept had been developed by the "Verband Wiener Volksbildung" (Vienna Adult Education Association).

Starting in the 1990s, several international congresses dealing with basic education as a substantial demand of modern society have taken place, and there is a raising awareness for the needs to combat functional illiteracy.

It is estimated that the results of the PISA study, among other factors, lead to an increase in new initiatives and the adaptation of measures. The government and other institutions have announced their readiness to set measures and to provide funds and support.

Research has also shown that there is a rising tendency to define basic skills in the wider sense, i.e. to leave the narrow illiteracy definition and especially to incorporate ICT skills. As to future developments, there will be an increased interest and need for additional tools to integrate IT in the education systems, as well as in several settings of assessment, and it is more and more understood as a central issue in teaching basic skills.

In Autumn 2003 the first Teacher Training Course on basic skills took place at the Austrian Institute for Adult Education BifEB. One part of the contents of the training curriculum was the integration of IT in teaching contexts.



In the past years basic skills have been understood in a narrow sense, and consequently all programmes and initiatives have focused on people with severe reading and writing deficiencies.

Illiteracy as a social and individual problem was discovered in the late 1970s. Until then illiterate people had practically been ignored and given full personal responsibility for their lack of skills. Increased demand for qualifications and growing labour market difficulties led to a new awareness of functional illiteracy in particular.

In the German Democratic Republic it was not until the mid-1980s that the first reflections were made on illiteracy. Initial publications were made shortly after the International Literacy Year.

As to the present literacy infrastructure, it can be stated that a main problem is the multitude of bodies in German adult education and the lack of homogeneous legislative regulation. The Federal Ministry of Education and Science does not play a major role in literacy-related training.

In Germany there are no set rules and regulations over a wide spread area concerning and covering literacy and the basic education courses that are on offer. So therefore it depends on the individual decision making agencies to make an offer

taking in to account the finances available.

There are different agencies that offer literacy courses. The College of Further Education being the most wide spread of all. They themselves offer 95 percent of the courses for Illiterate people. They offer around 2000 courses a year with more than 18.000 registered students. Therefore nearly every third College of Further Education offers a literacy program. The literacy program in Germany is still along way from being continued and covered over a wide spread area.

In general, most institutes offering basic skills courses (again in the old, narrow definition of basic skills as secondary or functional illiteracy), are technologically not very well equipped. Quite often, the training staff are not familiar with the use of IT. As a consequence there has so far been little integration of IT in the learning settings. Although there have been some efforts at a scientific level to originate programmes (as at the University of Bremen) and develop material, using IT as a learning tool has not become standard.

Since 2002 The project "APOLL" standing for "Alpha-Portal- Literacy- Learning has been giving lessons for illiterate people through use of the Internet structure therefore it is possible to learn on a more individual basis. The program was developed by the German Adult Education Association in cooperation with the National Association for Literacy.

Its development was supported by UNESCO and the Ministry of Economy. It will operate at different levels and will function as a communication platform as well as a source of information and materials.

The E-Learning-Portal offers through the anonymity of the net a subliminal opening and also offers a system where the student can decide individually about time, place and learning quota. In connection with the successful literacy courses in The Colleges of Further Education are using as an example UNESCO’s target of World-Literacy-Decade. The portal can be seen as an important instrumental advantage helping to reduce illiteracy in Germany by approximately 50 percent. The Blending-Learning-Concept can be implemented into literacy courses for co-teachers to support the work of trainers.

Another important step has been made by the German Institute of Adult Education (DIE) with a wide programme in the areas of eLearning and IT.

A resolution by the German Volkshochschul-Verband e.V. (adult education association) onm the PISA study and its consequences for further education in June 2002 stated alarming results about the state of knowledge and formal skills level of juveniles and young adults in Germany. Among others, the following deficits in education politics, education systems and individual learning biographies are confirmed by the results of different studies:

  • insufficient knowledge and basic education skills
  • insufficient skills for understanding complex correlations
  • insufficient language skills (first and foreign languages)
  • insufficient competency in school assisted education
  • insufficient information and counselling within and on the educational system
  • insufficient transparency and flexibility in the public educational sector
  • insufficient cooperation among all partners (teachers, parents, students) in education.

From this, the association of German adult education centres (DVV) conclude that there will be development in the following areas over the next years:

  • the development of basic skills education and integration offers for migrants in order to promote intercultural learning
  • the overall introduction of language courses for mothers in synchrony with nursery school and elementary school
  • continuing education for educators and teachers
  • information and counselling on functional illiteracy
  • the further development of learning modules that can be certified, with the establishment of national examination standards, in subsequent school graduation and vocational qualifications.


In 1984, ATD Quart Monde, an NGO (a non-governmental organization) working in the area of social exclusion first used the term "illettrisme" (illiteracy) to describe this phenomenon. The term was taken up by the government which set out to calculate the number of people falling into this category. In 1986 it founded "Le Groupe Permanent de Lutte contre l’Illettrisme" (GPLI) – a literacy action group.

In 1998, legislation to combat social exclusion took up the question of illiteracy and declared it a national priority; it made provision for:

  • Increased funding: 50 million euros allocated to the problem for each budget year
  • A coordinated effort by all the public services to address the problems associated with illiteracy.

In 1994 a national survey showed that 2.3 million adults – 5.4% of the total population – have difficulty speaking, reading, writing or using French in their everyday lives.

A 1995 survey amongst young people aged between 18 and 23 showed that:

  • 1% are totally illiterate
  • 3% can read only isolated words
  • 4% can read only isolated sentences
  • 12% are capable only of a superficial reading of a short simple text
  • 80% are capable of an in-depth reading of a text

In 2001 tests carried during the compulsory Military service days (JAPD) showed that 11.6% of young people have difficulty reading (13.9% of boys, 8.6% of girls)

In 2000, a new organisation was formed: the « Agence Nationale de Lutte contre l’Illettrisme » -a national body to combat illiteracy

The agency’s objective is to amalgamate and make the best use of the means provided by the state, local authorities and private enterprise in the campaign against illiteracy.

On 5th March 2003 a concerted national plan of action was put in place, steered by the ANLI.

It has four main axes:

  • Coordinate the drive against illiteracy and develop it by reinforcing the cooperation between partners.
  • Improve the service to those lacking basic skills and intensify preventive measures.
  • Share resources and skills and provide more information about illiteracy and basic learning skills.
  • Keep a count of illiterate people and assess the impact of campaigns and policies.

The concept of the working platform is to:

  • Improve and generalize diagnosis and orientation
  • Organize and improve training programmes
  • Improve the links between schools, continuing education institutes and private enterprise.
  • Implement these policies through funding: to make funding more coherent, taking account of the special costs of the training programmes and particularly of the need for coordination, to provide a single practical guide to all training establishments and businesses so they can work out the various funding possibilities and to coordinate funding through an annual regional programme based on local development contracts.


Civil, social and economic development as well as technology progress required the promotion of permanent education and training which became more and more relevant in the framework of the economic development policy fostering the highest exploitation of human resources.

As far as adult education is concerned, its primary aim was to fight the heavy question of complete illiteracy. This kind of illiteracy has certainly decreased, but another is persistent, in the same way worrying and widespread, which we may define as functional and which includes everyone who - having or not a certificate of compulsory school - is not able to understand a simple text related to everyday life.

The qualitative change in literacy brought to develop new instruments, different from those used in the past, when the main problem was to teach adults to read, to write and to count.

Old popular schools for illiterates were founded in 1947 and abolished in 1982. Now we have "corsi di alfabetizzazione" (for the achievement of the primary school certificate ) and "corsi per lavoratori" (for lower the achievement of scuola media certificate ), at the beginning directed to those who were already employed and whose labour contracts provided for paid permissions of 150 hours in the year for attendance. In the last years, the amount of workers attendance decreased remarkably, while courses are attended by a higher number of unemployed, housewives, young people over 15 years old and, recently, Third World immigrants too. The original users changed as well as the requirements of the social tissue. These changes addressed school policies at community level not only in Italy, towards a general system of lifelong learning which includes not only school education and vocational training but also permanent training for workers and citizens.

However, administrative innovations were introduced starting from Ministerial Order no. 455 of 29 July 1997, which instituted Centri Territoriali Permanenti – CTP offering education and training for adults, and the agreement State-Regions-Local governments of 2 March 2000 with the consequent Directive no. 22 issued on the 6th of February 2001 which modified and integrated provisions contained in the previous Order no. 455 on this subject.

Law 53/2003 indicates the promotion of permanent education among the principles and criteria that will be at the basis of implementation decrees; therefore, this subject will have a legislative regulation.

The local partnership in adult education and training

The local partnership is not only institutionally active in all the policy stages of the programming and management of adult education and training actions and projects but it also structures the entire system.

The Agreement for the Reorganisation and Strengthening of Continuing Adult Education, signed by the government, regions, provinces, municipalities and mountain communities on 2 March 2000, laid the foundations in Italy for defining an integrated system of adult education and training on three interconnecting national, regional and local levels. On all three levels it was decided to set up a committee, as a consultation forum with the function of implementing training integration.

The regional policies for integration are therefore not only varied but also have different rates of progress, based on different past experiences as well as specific political choices.


Involvement of the social partners in the definition of strategies and policies

From a lifelong-learning perspective, the national educational and training strategies – that is the priorities around the promotion of employability and active citizenship - have the social partners on the various levels as leading actors.

Firstly, they are directly involved, through consultation and concerted action on the highest political level of the government, on many lifelong-learning themes, and especially continuing training and adult education. The social partners also participate in the definition of policies, regulations and programming in regional institutions, with varying degrees of involvement. Moreover, within the framework of continuing training, the recent establishment of Joint Multisectoral Funds (Fondi Interprofessionali) gives the social partners not only the power to propose and define strategies but also to manage them.



During the 1990´s, the Federation of Cultural and Educational Associations of Adults (FACEPA) was founded within Adult Education in Spain. In Catalonia, they work with different schools and associations linked to democratic Adult Education. They promote Adult Education and social change through participation, associations and access to education for all, especially those that have had less opportunities. At a national level, the First Trijornadas in Democratic Education for Adults were held in 2000, from which emerged CONFAPEA, (Confederation of Federations and Associations of Participants in Democratic Adult Education and Culture) with the finality to carry out coordinated work that encourages participation and increases the opportunities in education for all, promoting a participatory, transformative and democratic model for adult education.

Besides promoting access to higher education (Qualification Plans), the so-called Basic Training Plans aiming at eradicating absolute and functional illiteracy in preferential target areas are priorities of the Adult Education Centers. The 1992 National Report shows the illiteracy rate in Andalucia dropping from 11.8% in 1983 to 5.2% in 1990 with a total of 71,354 participants in adult education since 1988. The curriculum and activities of the Basic Training Plans are closely intertwined with aspects deriving from the Community Development and Socio-cultural Campaign Plans, as well as from Occupational Training Plans.

In Spain, lifelong learning is being promoted by the adoption of legislation granting adult education a legal status. It also offers all adults an opportunity to upgrade their basic skills to a level equivalent to a high school diploma. The autonomous regional governments are responsible for the delivery of the courses and they work closely with the other key national stakeholders: the Ministry of Education, the national network of employment offices (INEM), municipal administrations and the social partners. Basic skills training for the unemployed is voluntary and the take-up is high. Age is no barrier to the popularity of this type of learning and traditional methods of learning are prevalent. There is a special need for those who needed to learn Spanish as a second or other language. Initial feedback from the literacy courses shows a clear link between an improvement in literacy skills and obtaining employment. The group noted the significance of co-financing through the European Social Fund.

The second main type of state activity besides center-based training is the distance learning sector. Two institutes were founded under the auspices of the Ministry of Education: CENEBAD (Centro Nacional de Educación Básica a Distancia), and INBAD (Instituto Nacional de Bachillerato a Distancia). Both offer the formal sector's curriculum and degrees via distance learning. In 1987/88, 14,085 persons enrolled with CENEBAD. Out of these, only 510 were of school age. In addition, UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) offers open two-year distance courses for professional skills. The government of Spain shares administration of Radio ECCA (Emisora Cultural de Canarias) with a Jesuit group. It was given the status of a Center of the Adult Education Program (CEPA) in 1977 and is based on Latin-American experiences with literacy training. This station broadcasts literacy and general adult education programs (covering topics such as, health and parents' education). Printed media and a tutorial system support its lessons.


United Kingdom

The UK is unique in Europe in having committed major investment to solving the basic skills problem. No other country has gone as far in developing new provision, new resources, and new opportunities both for learners and for those who teach them.

Measures include the £3 billion invested by the current UK Government in their basic skills strategy, Skills for Life; the introduction of new teaching qualifications for all basic skills teachers; and new standards against which learner achievement must be mapped.

In response to the landmark report A Fresh Start in 1999, which revealed the alarming scale of basic skills needs in the UK, in 2001 the Government established the Adult Basic Skills Strategy Unit (ABSSU, www.dfes.gov.uk/readwriteplus), with the remit of administering the ambitious Skills for Life strategy, which planned to improve the skills of 750,000 adults between 2001 and 2004, and eventually eradicate basic skills deficiency entirely. Aspects of the strategy include:

  • a national promotional campaign providing people with the information needed to help them to improve their skills and find
  • research projects in each part of the country exploring different ways of motivating learners, meeting their specific needs and helping them acquire new reading, writing and number skills as quickly as possible
  • radical improvements to the education and training system for those learning literacy and numeracy skills in order to raise standards and boost levels of achievement
  • new national standards, new materials and a common core curriculum leading to National Tests, ensuring a consistent approach to teaching and learning, based on the most effective practice nationwide
  • the introduction of new and more effective ways of assessing need and better teacher training, setting up a new research centre, and rigorous national inspections to monitor standards.
  • A national initial teacher training programme for basic skills teachers was initiated in 2002 with the aim that all must be qualified to level 3 (equivalent to A levels, the long-established post-compulsory schooling exam system that leads to university entrance) by 2004.

Recent government and European developments/incentives in lifelong learning that have facilitated the delivery of basic skills

In August 2002 the Learning and Skills Council issued a press release announcing that they would fund every adult basic skills learner in Further Education.

Delivery and platform

Basic skills education are delivered either as standalone courses or embedded in other courses. Most FE colleges tend to have a basic skills department, but the Adult Learning Inspectorate recently announced plans to inspect each adult learning subject department for basic skills delivery within subject areas to insure that learners’ basic education was being provided for, regardless of their chosen course.

Though basic skills is principally still delivered face-to-face, increasingly numbers of learners are receiving tuition on line via sources such as learndirect, an ambitious government plan to bring learning to all UK citizens via e-learning (www.learndirect.co.uk).

Basic skills delivery is currently provided by the following organisations:

  • Further education colleges. Typical state sector FE colleges will have a number of key features in common:
    • large size and scope, e.g. several thousand students ranging from school leavers to older people – in most colleges more than half are over the age of 21
    • breadth of provision, e.g. from basic literacy and numeracy up to technician level courses, and degree-level work in some subjects
    • variety of students, e.g. from young full-time students to part-time adult learners working in industry, and those taking classes for leisure
    • facilities for work-based learning, e.g. simulated work environments such as restaurants, hair salons, travel agencies run by students, as well as classrooms, workshops and open learning centres with computer suites
    • customer focus and links with the local community
    • free education up to the age of 19 for all UK students and disadvantaged groups.
  • Adult and community learning: Adult and community learning draws much of its funding from the Adult and Community Learning Fund (ACLF), a £20 million fund set up by the DfEE (the former DfES) to support community based organisations developing new learning opportunities for adults. The ACLF aims to draw more people into learning, especially those who may have been wary of education in the past. The Fund wants to support activities that take learning into sectors of the community not reached by traditional educational organisations, providing opportunities that are relevant to the people involved and delivering them in ways that will interest and attract those who are hardest to reach.

ACLF covers a broad spectrum of organisations such as immigrant organisations, religious organisation, charities, prisons and other bodies who have a specific interest in the socially excluded.

The UK standards and assessment framework

The UK is governed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) standards. A part of the Government’s response to the Moser Report of 2000 was to create a set of national standards against which all literacy and numeracy qualifications and programmes of study were to be mapped. The standards were published by QCA in March 2000 and set out clearly the specific requirements for literacy and numeracy at the three Entry levels and Levels 1 and 2.

For example, the qualifications state that at Level 1, an individual should be able to:

"listen and respond to spoken language, including information and narratives, and follow explanations and instructions of varying lengths, adapting response to speaker, medium and context; speak to communicate information, ideas and opinions, adapting speech and content to take account of the listener(s) and medium; engage in discussion with one or more people in familiar and unfamiliar situations, making clear and relevant contributions that respond to what others say and produce a shared understanding about different topics."



Law on Education is the main document for the education system. There is no special reference on basic skills in this law.

The government has approved and is implementing the Concept of Education Development which foresees the following activities for improvement of adult education opportunities:

  • To provide a coordinated support by employers and the State to the development of adult education programmes, especially in the context of balanced territorial development;
  • To promote the participation of higher and vocational education establishments in the development of further education by offering further vocational and continuing vocational programmes and getting involved in the training of the unemployed;
  • To draw up the guidelines for evaluating the performance of evening schools;
  • To make proposals for more extensive involvement of the employers in financing of continuing education.

Concept of Education Development is seen as the general framework for implementation of LLL strategies in Bulgaria, but there are limited specific links to LLL with the focus on employability, but there is no definition of responsibilities.

A National Programme aims at the development of national life-long learning strategy and implementation plan which will be linked to the regional implementation plans and creation of a lifelong learning support system in the regions. The programme includes the evaluation / research/ of the real level of basic skills among different groups of population in the regions, including the groups facing the risk of social exclusion. It is planned to include the basic skills as an integral part of life-long learning strategy.


Czech Republic

Czech school system has very long tradition and we have a compulsory education more than 150 years. Pupils, witch leave basic school can much more than only read and write.

These children, witch do not manage basic school, enter a similar special school, with a special care (how many pupils leave this school and can not to read and write, how many have a special basic skills courses to care about themselves, e.g. – we will ask director of this school in Znojmo town 25.2., at the meeting with him).

A functional illiteracy is marginal problem in Czech Republic, mostly because of a long tradition of qualification and good level education. Illiteracy mainly applies to special basic school leavers and people from the Roma minority.