A model of participation for low-literate adults from diverse populations in literacy programs

Date of Completion

January 1996


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Reading




Frequently adult education has been criticized for catering to adults who hold middle-class values and middle-class life styles (Merriam & Caffarella, 1991). Under-educated adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds are the ones who would benefit most from participating in learning activities. Unfortunately, they are less likely to participate than are more affluent, better educated adults. Efforts to reach the low-literate population have rarely succeeded in this area; only 4% of them ever receiving literacy instruction. This study attempts to understand better why some low-literate adults choose to participate and, with this information, to develop a model that can explain their motivation to participate in such programs.^ The Chain-of-Response Model (COR) (Cross, 1981) is the theoretical framework for this study. Cross' model explains trends already evident in adult education. Cross' model helps to explain why adults participate in education. Her model includes seven sets of variables that may influence adults' decision to further their education. She states that if an individual has strong self-confidence about him/herself (Point A), has favorable attitudes about education (Point B), and has confidence that participation will help to attain his/her goals (Point C), then chances are that such an individual will take advantage of educational opportunities. On the other hand the opposite is also true. If one has negative feelings at Points A, B, or C, such as low self-esteem, negative attitudes about education, or lack of confidence that participation will result in their goals, then he/she will probably not return to school. Research (Ross-Gordon, 1990) has already shown the reluctance of low-literate adults to participate in formal education. Most of the explanatory models of participation in adult education, including Cross', have not been tested empirically.^ The present research followed four groups of participants over a period of eighteen months. These adults were enrolled in basic literacy and ESL classes. Through the use of 268 individual oral questionnaires, focus group interviews and participant observation, data have been collected concerning five points of interest regarding participation of low-literate adults: life transitions, lack of reading proficiency, attitudes toward education, expectancy that participation will help to attain goals, and deterrents to participation. ^