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Although the estimated number of adults with low levels of literacy varies from a country to country, the fact on the ground is that these adults are first and foremost the recipients of public assistance, poor, and out of proportion representation of immigrants among the Western nations. Furthermore, most of the adults in the programs of literacy are female. Consequently, ABE (Adult Basic Education) is a service designed for the individual who are likely victims of restrictions to access power, and social opportunities. Though, not necessarily based on their socioeconomic distinction, but may be resulting from the effects of gender, racism, and social classes of the society (Hopkins, 1986).
The societal outlined grouping of gender, race, social classes, and to some extents sexual orientation in adult education not only designate groups and individuals within local social, national, and global structures, they also form identities that delineate people’s cultures and experiences. The predominance of immigrants, women, people of color, and poor people in ABE programs, position this issue within an interlocking structure of power and oppression. The social inequality experienced and described on the lines of gender, race, and social classes pave way to the determination on who requires literacy instructions, which is the target, and what influence it has on the lives of learners. In addition, policymakers and individuals in the society expect that the ABE program will be a solution to the effects the societal inequality. Consequently, educators may be teaching in a manner that underpin, rather than refurbish, the existing differences of race gender, and classes’ orientation that impact the chances that are available for learner to gain (Brookfield, 1988).
The impact of class inequality, racism, and gender affects the lives of individuals in the US. This influence is felt in the access to adult education. Fine (1998) disclosed educational research on inequality interprets into racism and affected mainly the members of minority groups. In her conclusion, she stated that the experienced racism was fueled by the existence of simultaneous advantaging and privileging of white by the education structure. Gender, race, and social class influence the power of individuals to negotiate in education system and gain from such negotiation. This nature of unsuccessful struggle is predominance among the color people and poor members of society (Patricia A. Alexander, 2006). The gender concept of ABE is complex, with female out doing males in number at entry but being outnumbered at exit. This case scenario does not only occur in ABE, but also in the normal education system. Though not discussed in this paper, socioeconomic factor plays a significant role in determination of education success at the background of all the other determinants.
In the background of education and race, immigrants from Africa and their descent, and others who fall under the category of non-white are usually lumped together under a label of “minorities”. While this is so, minorities should as well consist of individuals from Europe and other parts of the world, who migrated to the US. In the concept of this paper, the term race is regarded as a social structure designed to favor the Europeans and other Whites while impacting negatively on others outside the ideological of Whites.
The immigrants in the literacy programs differ in their levels of eligibility for the programs, in their language and ethnicity, prior education, and culture among other ways. The education background of the minorities differs, though some immigrants are well educated back in their countries of origin, they may work as manual laborers for the lack of fluency in English, difference on education credentials and licensing differences between the US and other nations, where the immigrants obtained their education. This does not only apply to US but also to other countries where racial issue is rampart. Some immigrants have low literacy levels for their native languages as well as the language of the country where they have migrated to, such as the US or the UK. Such immigrants end up working in low earning fields with little or no power and lack of advantages a trait that is associated with unprivileged social classes.
In his work reporting on the cultural diversity experienced in the US, specifically in New York, Askins (1993) pointed out that there were about 150 linguistic and cultural traditions presented in the New York city Funded literacy programs over the period between 1991 and 1992 academic program.
Females outnumber male students in ABE programs globally though at varying levels in different countries and regions. In the year 2000, for example the number of women enrolled in adult education outnumbered that of men in 35 out of 50 states of the US and in not a single state the number of women in ABE program was less than 41% of all the enrolled learners (John Comings, 2004).
On average for the year 1991-1992, women constituted over 52% of all the enrollees. The similar case was in the US ABE system during the period 1998-1999 according to US department of education report in 2001. The report by NALS in 1993 pointed out that there was equal percentages for both men and women scoring lowest in Quantitative scales, Documents, as well as in Prose. Though access for training on particular professional field may be segregated on the basis of gender, social class and race, it has been recorded that women are slightly better performers educationally as compared to men counterpart given the same education learning condition, facilities, and educators. In reference to a census conducted in March of 2000 by Census Office Update, 28% of young men completed their college studies while 30% of young women from the same cohort did so. In working places, among the adults, men have recorded lower performance than women on the basis of Prose and Document literacy scales at the same time outnumbering women in the cases of lowest literacy levels on average. Despite these differences, women number of enrollees continuously increases as compared to that of men.
According to Sticht (2000), men composes the largest portion of adults without the high school diploma, while men in the working places tend to be less literate compared to their women counterparts. Though adult men may state that they do not read well, the enroll for adult programs in low number, fail to show up even when they enroll, and lack persistence once they have enrolled. Though in the US this is the case, the age factor mediate the gender literacy difference, whereby, men at the age between 16 and 24 tend to out number the women, but the scenario changes with the change in age. By the age of 60 years, women are majority in the adult education structure.
According to date from the US department of Education, individuals who are severely disadvantaged economically accounted for two thirds of the enrollees in the OVAE (Office of Vocational and Adult Education) program. In regards to the overall literacy needs, the information from NASLS (National Adult Literacy Survey) highlighted a strong correlation between dependence on the public assistance and low literacy. The dependence on the public assistance in the US is an indicator of poverty and challenges in obtaining sustainable employment or earning too low wage to sustain oneself without other assistance in form of food or other basic needs from the government.
The trend in levels of earning and the correlation between education level and wages indicates a widening disproportion along the classes divides. In the US, between 1976 and 2000, the median wage of 25-35 years old men without secondary school diploma declined by about 30%, over the same period the wage for a four-year college graduate gained by between 50% and 140%.
According to the Bureau of Statistics record in 2001, approximately 6.8 million out of 32.3 million living below poverty level were laborers. The group is comprised of the working poor. Amongst all the educational attainment stages black were more likely than White and women more likely than men to be in the category of working poor. The risk of falling into the category of working poor significantly decreases with the rise in education level.
From the above discussion, it is possible to deduce the purpose of adult education. In relation to class, adult education aims at closing the gap between the working poor and the educated group in the society to eliminate the social inequalities that are associated by social classes. The educator is responsible of guiding the learners on their effort to obtain the right information concerning the area where they qualify best. From the gender disparity in education levels, the purpose of adult education is bring gender equality through empowering the gender that less educated in the society. The same role of bridging the gap is the purpose of education in the case of racial barriers and disparity. In all cases, a learner has to be willing to actively participate in the learning process. To have effective procedure of learning, it is recommendable to avoid all forms of discrimination based on any background, be it class, race, or gender. Equality should be practiced at all learning institutes (Blakely, 2008).