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Adult Education in Milwaukee

Off the Cuff with Literacy Services' Ginger Duiven

May. 23, 2017
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Since its founding in 1965, Literacy Services of Wisconsin has assisted more than 30,000 individuals on their learning journeys. Providing Adult Basic Education, English Language Learning and General Educational Development (GED) preparation tutoring, Literacy Services of Wisconsin serves 450-500 learners per year, depending on hundreds of dedicated volunteers to fulfill the needs of the program. Off the Cuff recently spoke with Literacy Services of Wisconsin Executive Director Ginger Duiven about adult literacy trends, the impact of evolving technologies on adult education and the need for literacy services in Milwaukee.


How would you describe the need in the Milwaukee area for literacy services?

Unfortunately, the need is quite significant. The estimates right now are that two in five adults are reading at the lowest levels of literacy, meaning that they’re performing at a level of about a fourth grader. So, the need is really great in the Milwaukee area for adult literacy programs as well as English language learning—which is another piece of what we provide. And, there is also a significant need for GED and high school equivalency credential preparation because our school system has such a high dropout rate and a low graduation rate that the number of adults in our community that don’t have that credential is quite high.


Are there any trends in adult literacy to be aware of or that you see as significant?

One of them is that the demographics in our state and even in our country relative to the workforce are changing pretty significantly. At this point in time, it’s really crucial that we find a way to help every person in our community be ready and capable to fill job opportunities. We have a (pending) workforce shortage. I actually just returned from a conference in Appleton, Wisc., for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which is a federal law that will be taking effect as of Saturday, July 1. At the conference, one of the presenters was the chief economist for the state of Wisconsin. He was talking about these trends. It’s really important that the adults in our communities are given the best possible opportunities to improve on their skill sets that will put them on a path to a career so that we can fill all open positions.


How has literacy education changed with technology?

I would say it has in a couple of different ways. With the increased 24/7 access to literacy tools, practices and websites with good information, students can continue to build their skill sets outside of the classroom. Also, the GED exam changed in 2014, and for the first time those tests are now administered on a computer. So, for a learner to be successful at the GED, they must be able to use a computer proficiently and must be able to type at a relatively steady pace. Technology is definitely improving access to adult education, but also upping the ante for learners to be proficient in a digital environment. The digital environment as a whole has put up some additional challenges for people with literacy issues; people are finding themselves more and more marginalized.


What other organizations does Literacy Services of Wisconsin collaborate with?

One of our best partnerships is with an organization called WRTP/BIG STEP. Their work is involved with providing pre-apprenticeship training programs for people going into the construction trade or manufacturing jobs. We work really closely with them to help learners in our programs access WRTP/BIG STEP programs when they’re ready. Or, conversely, when people go to enroll with WRTP/BIG STEP but they’re not quite ready to be successful, we enroll them here and help them get ready. So, there is a really strong connection there in terms of meeting individual needs.


For more information on Literacy Services of Wisconsin visit literacyservices.org or call 414-344-5878.

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