Why Essential Skills?
Essential Skills development is so much more than work-skills training, and it is important that literacy practitioners – especially those who work with adult learners whose goals may not be work related – recognize the ways in which developing Essential Skills positively impacts many aspects of adult learners’ lives. As introduced earlier, ES are the base skills that people need to deal with the demands of everyday life. It is also important to note that Essential Skills lay dormant until applied to a task, and according to WWestnet (Western Canada Workplace Essential Skills Training Network) skills weaken, or are lost, if never called upon (www.nald.ca/library/research/street/cover.htm). This supports providing adult students with a variety of authentic opportunities to hone their Essential Skills, and build on strengths they may not realize they already have.
The same WWestnet report indicates that Essential Skills development is associated with:
- Greater independence
- Increased self-respect
- Effective problem solving and communication
- Better overall health and well-being
- Higher learning and earning potential
- An increased ability to use technology
- Flexibility and the capacity to adapt to change
ES development is appropriate for individuals with a wide-range of skills. Statistics show that even formal education does not guarantee adequate ES development, as many high school and post-secondary graduates do not demonstrate the necessary Essential Skills to reach their full potential (from the Advisory Council on Science and Technology (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/
ES are extremely transferable. Because each skill is identified separately and clearly defined, it is easier for adult students to recognize the skills, understand what they mean, and see how they can be applied in a variety of situations. ES language is also global, as Canada, the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., for example, provide some form of Essential Skills training using IALS or ES guidelines.
While ES development certainly impacts the economy by creating a more capable workforce, it can have a significant impact on adult learners’ training plans and success. ES training is also affirming as learners in your program recognize all the skills that come into play when performing tasks. Imagine how competent learners feel when they realize that when filling out an on-line survey, they are not only reading and writing, but also utilizing a number of other Essential Skills, including Document Use, Critical Thinking, Computer Use, and Significant Use of Memory. Adult students in literacy agencies, who receive training integrating ES language, develop skills that lay the groundwork for further progress.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- Think about your initial impression of Essential Skills. After reading this module, what connection do you see between the stated benefits, and the goals students in your agency are working towards?
- What specific skills do you believe people need to deal with daily demands, and have you discussed them with learners in your agency?
- Are you already helping learners in your program develop those skills and, if so, what opportunities or activities do you provide to help them recognize the skills they have already developed, and how they are using them?
- In helping adult learners improve upon skills, do you believe a tool that helps them determine specific skills they have, skills they are developing, and skills they need to master, would foster greater skill attainment?