The design of functional context education and training programs for out-of-school youth and adults, many of whom may be under-educated and not well developed in English language and literacy skills is made difficult by the great diversity of adults as individuals and by the situational and organizational contexts in which adults are found. Because of this diversity, adult educators need to possess an extensive body of knowledge and professional training.
The Diversity of Adult Learners
As suggested in the proceeding chapter, adult language and literacy learners form a breathtakingly diverse group. Among others, it includes college students taking English courses at the university, new immigrants who need to learn the English language as a second language, out of school, native born adults who are seeking to develop basic and intermediate language and literacy skills and mature adult employees who need to upgrade their language and literacy skills in the wake of changes in their work environments.
lmmigrants / Foreign Born
Immigrants arriving in the United States frequently enroll in English as a second language (ESL) programs. The diversity of educational backgrounds among these new arrivals is extensive; some have higher education degrees, others are without formal education and are totally illiterate in any language, and thousands of others fall in between these extremes. They are all grouped together by their need and desire to learn to speak, read and write the English language of their newly adopted homeland.
A U. S. Department of Education 1 (pp. 15-22) study reports that during 1991-92, federally funded adult education programs enrolled about 756,000 adults in English as a second language (ESL). Almost all of these adults were foreign-born, and about half had arrived in the United States after 1990. Sixty-seven percent of the ESL enrollees were Hispanic, 22 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 8 percent White, non-Hispanic, 2 percent Black, non-Hispanic, and slightly less than I percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native.
Over half (53 percent) of ESL enrollees had attained at least a high school education, another 23 percent had completed a postsecondary (four year college) degree, and 47 percent had no high school diploma . About 92 percent said they read "well" or "very well" in their native language, while 8 percent said they read "not at all" or "not well" in their native language. The ability to read in their native language was directly and positively related to their ability to speak English.
Sixty-two percent were under age 30, and only 11 percent were over age 40. Most (51 percent) had never married and 63 percent had no children living in the household. About a third of the ESL students with young children in the household reported that they provided some intergenerational transfer of literacy by reading with their children nearly every day.