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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain

To conclude this study I would like briefly to consider the future development of work in the field of adult literacy.  In the early chapters, I discussed the rapid growth of public awareness of the size of the problem.  In response to pressure the Government set up the Adult Literacy Resource Agency for a period of three years only.  Those three years are now at an and. and we await the final report of A.L.R.A.

In its place has been established the Adult Literacy Unit with a paltry £200,000 per year for three years to fund specifically only new projects and research.  Government resources for this work have been limited and are likely to become even more limited in the future.  The Minister of Education’s statement22 indicated that local Education Authorities would be expected to assume financial responsibility to meet these needs.  It was clearly intimated that in order to achieve this, Mrs. Williams would be prepared to earmark a portion of the Rate Support Grant.  Local authorities may be reluctant to have to face this kind of pressure, and may well prefer to make voluntary efforts to meet this commitment.

There appears to be an assumption that there will always be a percentage of illiterates in the population for a variety of reasons, but does this really have to be so?  While it is possible that congenital causes may not be eliminated for years to come, e.g. spasticity, brain damage at birth or after and similar medical reasons which depend on progress in research for their cure.  The other reasons advanced for the slow learner or “less able” child may not be as valid as they have been accepted.

Geneticists such as Jensen and Eysenck have postulated that one’s “intelligence” is hereditarily determined and have “proved” that certain nationalities and races are genetically less intelligent than the rest.  The fact that these hereditary traits exist in the Negro races and the Irish is quite coincidental.  However it is interesting to note that the blacks tested were mainly American and West Indian, i.e. those who have suffered centuries of slavery, starvation and unbalanced nutrition and even when freed. were not given equal opportunity for education, employment or material betterment (and have long been made to believe in their own inherent inferiority), by the white-dominated societies in which they live.  No results were obtained for the intelligence of free Africans nor were the so-called tests adequately weighted for cultural differences.  The Irish too have suffered material deprivation for centuries and the similarity of their results indicates at least a basis for considering dietary and environmental causes for poor results in intelligence tests, even if one accepts the tests themselves as giving any kind of valid result.

In the 1930s Sir Cyril Burt published results of his tests, purporting to show the accuracy of testing children at the ages of 9 - 10 in order to determine their potential for the rest of their lives.  He claimed that everyone is born with innate intelligence, which is quantifiable to some-degree of accuracy.  These ideas were the basis of the scholarship system (11+) introduced in the 1944 Education Act to determine the allocation of children to secondary education.  By extension, such intelligence testing has been applied to even younger children.  The 11+ has been discontinued, but in spite of the total discrediting of Burt and the revelations of his dishonest methods of producing the results he expected and wanted to get, the idea that it is possible to assess children’s intelligence accurately at a very early age and to postulate their potential from the results of those tests still persists.  Those children labelled “less able” at 7 or 8 years old are regarded as such for the rest of their educational life and

22 Hansard : Written replies (Shirley Williams) Vol.936, No. 150, 26th October 1977, pp 818 – 819.

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 26 of 51

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