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International Literacy Day Event in Berlin, Germany

9 septembre 2009

As last year, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) organised the national celebrations for International Literacy Day (ILD) on 8 September in Berlin, in cooperation with the Federal Association for Literacy and Basic Education (BVAG) and the German Adult Education Association (DVV), and with the support of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). The focus of the event was on “Literacy in the Workplace”.
Employers and social partners from Germany and other European countries presented and discussed their activities in this area.
Approximately 100 people (press, media, literacy practitioners, funders and researchers) attended the event, which took place in the Hôtel Concorde, whose Director-General, Carsten Colmorgen, is Germany’s Ambassador for Literacy.

UIL’s role as coordinator of the national ILD celebrations is linked to its role in a major literacy research and development initiative spearheaded by the German government. The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) is investing 30 million Euro in the initiative known as “alphabund”, a German contribution to the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003–2012). Currently, 26 collaborative research projects with more than 100 sub-projects link adult learners and actors involved in both academic and practice-based basic education and literacy research efforts throughout Germany. UIL houses the transfer office for the alphabund projects, comprising a team of 7 staff. Its aims are to: foster networking between all project partners within the funding initiative; analyse, streamline and disseminate (“transfer”) results to different target groups (policy developers and funders, literacy course providers, literacy tutors, tutors working in vocational preparation courses, universities, companies, international stakeholders, the general public and the media); promote literacy awareness in Germany; and ensure the sustainability of successful project outputs.

The majority of the BMBF-funded projects focus on workplace literacy – a clear indication that this is still a pressing issue in Germany and the reason why it has been selected as the theme of this year’s ILD celebrations. The aim of the event was to foster awareness, especially among employers and social partners as new stakeholders for literacy and basic education in Germany.

In his opening speech, Adama Ouane emphasised the importance of literacy competencies in the context of work and the implications they have for employers and social partners alike. He underlined the need to involve employers and social partners in a joint commitment to literacy and to make them aware of the benefits of literacy for their businesses and for society as a whole. Andreas Storm, Parliamentary State Secretary of the BMBF, congratulated the alphabund projects and employers on their fruitful cooperation – a clear demonstration of these employers’ commitment to employees with basic education needs. He reiterated his conviction that joint efforts are crucial to enhancing opportunities, educational provision and job prospects for ‘functional illiterates’. In his function as Director-General of the Hôtel Concorde, Carsten Colmorgen then called on companies to strive for social responsibility, particularly in these difficult economic times, indicating that Corporate Social Responsibility should not be related to profit and margin alone. Finally, Peter Hubertus, director of the BVAG, called for efforts that did not focus exclusively on employability, as basic education, although a prerequisite for employability, is about much more than just preparing people to enter the job market.

A series of international presentations showcased initiatives that underpinned the commitment of employers to promoting basic education in the workplace. Carol Taylor presented two case studies on the British Army and the Police Force, both major employers in the UK who have implemented basic education using a ‘whole organisation approach’. This approach underlines the importance of appointing key people at all levels of the organisation to support the workplace as a site for learning. These were followed by presentations of French and the Danish initiatives, with similar conclusions.
Propreté is the umbrella organisation of the services sector in France and employs a total number of staff of 417,000, many of whom have low levels of basic education. As part of its ‘Initiative to Improve Workplace Literacy’, the organisation works hand-in-hand with FAF Propreté, which administers the further education funds for the sector and contracts ‘education consultants’ to work with the individual enterprises. Like Carol Taylor before him, Bertrand Le Grix de la Salle indicated the importance of harnessing support at all organisational levels in order to guarantee the successful provision of workplace basic education. The Folk High School in Denmark is an independent, not-for-profit organisation providing basic education in the workplace. Their approach is to liaise directly with employers and employees before providing on-site basic education classes. The most striking aspect of Hans-Jorgen Hansen’s presentation was the revelation that such courses usually take place during working hours, and while participants are not expected to pay fees, their employers will be reimbursed 80% of the cost of allowing them time off from their regular jobs to attend.

One of the highlights of the event was the afternoon panel discussion, which centred on the as-yet relatively underdeveloped issue of workplace literacy in Germany. The panel included representatives from the Trade Union, the Employers Association, the Federal Employment Agency, the E-Plus Group (employer), the Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (economic research institute) and the DVV, as well as one learner, Uwe Boldt, and the head of the alphabund transfer office, Marion Döbert. Discussions focused on what each of the participating organisations could do to promote or enhance access to basic education in their workplace. After the panel session, discussions continued with representatives of the BMBF-funded projects. As most of the projects funded through the BMBF initiative concentrate on workplace literacy, we had invited them to set up project stands to present their preliminary research findings.

As in previous years, the BVAG presented ‘Literacy Ambassador’ awards, which this year went to literacy learner and children’s book author, Tim-Thilo Fellmer, and the coordinator of the BMBF-funded ABC project in Oldenburg, Achim Scholz. In their presentation speech, BVAG board members Cordula Löffler and Jürgen Genuneit thanked the winners for their outstanding commitment to advocating for and promoting literacy.

Contact: Maren Elfert (m.elfertunesco.org)