Literacy to grow at Tech.21

With technology looming large at work, it’s little wonder that Penn’s National Center for Adult Literacy is using a recently awarded $2.4 million federal grant to push the link between technology and literacy.

NCAL Director Dan Wagner said the U.S. Department of Education grant will help fund Tech.21, a resource for those—educators and learners—looking for what to buy in adult education and literacy technologies.

Established 20 years ago when the issue of adult literacy was “largely neglected,” Wagner said, NCAL seeks to bring applied research and development to the area of adult literacy. The National Adult Literacy Survey conducted in 1993 shows that 25 percent of adults are considered below the level of literacy needed for employment.

And with technology becoming more entrenched in the normal work day, the focus on both literacy and technology is especially critical.

As Wagner explained it, Tech.21 has a twofold advantage: “By helping people become more literate, we’re offering them an opportunity to become involved in the IT revolution.”

Along with its partners—the Public Broadcasting Service, Outreach and Technical Assistance Network and the National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium—Tech.21 will explore how technology, such as distance learning, the Internet and CDs, can further adult education and literacy.

In nine laboratories nationwide, with Penn serving as the principal site, practitioners and learners will get the chance to experiment with tools such as videoconferencing and digital broadcasting.

Tech.21 researchers will also design user-friendly models for individualized learning, attempting to fulfill the needs of the assisted blind and deaf.

Wagner said he expects positive results once Tech.21 launches. And he has focus groups and ethnographic case studies to back up his expectations. “There’s a pretty dramatic increase in motivation when they [adult educators] have gone through our program,” said Wagner. “And their increase in motivation has an impact in the quality of education.”

But Tech.21 is only one facet of NCAL’s focus on technology. The center has also organized a conference on bridging the digital divide. And with another project, the Bridges to the Future Initiative, it will shift to an international focus. With its sister organization, the International Literacy Institute, NCAL will tackle the issue of unequal access to technology in poor, developing countries like India, South Africa, Mexico and Ghana. Collaborating with state governments, they hope to promote literacy and vocational skills through community learning and technology centers.

Originally published on December 13, 2001