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J Res Educ Eff. 2011;4(2). doi: 10.1080/19345747.2011.555287.

A Public Health Approach to Improving the Lives of Adult Learners: Introduction to the Special Issue on Adult Literacy Interventions.

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, US Dept. of Health and Human Services.


Addressing the literacy needs of adult basic and secondary education learners must form a core part of a broader public health effort to increase educational and health outcomes for these individuals and their families. Adult learners constitute a significant proportion of the overall adult U.S. population and a proportion that impacts, directly and indirectly, on the physical and economic health of millions of families and society writ large. Enhancing the literacy skills of low literate adults has proven difficult, hampered by the relative dearth of research data on struggling adult learners and effective intervention approaches, the contextual challenges of delivering intensive interventions, limited personal and systemic resources, and competing demands on learners' time. We propose a systems level view of adult low-literacy as one that holds promise and provides a basic framework for providing coordinated, comprehensive, and integrated services, but that requires additional research to support. Informed and coordinated efforts with the pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade education system and health and labor services sectors is needed if we are to improve the lives of these adults and their families.


Adult Literacy; adult basic education; education; intervention; public health

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