Implications of policy
An important aspect of tackling low literacy in the Netherlands is finding new sites which can deploy the Literacy Screener: organisations in which people enter for a completely different reason and where the work activities are not primarily associated with low literacy. On the basis of the four organisations that have participated in the Dutch GOAL project, it is clear that the Literacy Screener can be used well in various types of organisations. The common factor (and an important condition for the successful use of the instrument) is that the Literacy Screener provides useful information for the organisations’ own work processes. Besides, the personal and intensive guidance of the Reading and Writing Foundation appeared necessary for a successful implementation of the Literacy Screener.
On the one hand, the involvement of new sites is a strength, because more people with low literacy will be discovered (the pilot organisations are a good example of this). On the other hand, the character of the new sites also causes difficulties, because people with a different goal and mindset come into the organisation and are not necessarily motivated to address their identified language problem. What is more, the object and vision of the organisations are initially not focused on addressing low literacy. It is a challenge to create a common vision and responsibility throughout the organisation (not only in the department where the Literacy Screener is conducted) about the use of the Literacy Screener and the approach to low literacy.
In the Netherlands, no formal criteria have been established for the programme staff members who perform the Literacy Screener and who conduct the discussion about the outcome. In practice, these parts of the Dutch intervention are performed by different people – in the pilot organisation often by unpaid workers (volunteers or trainees). The programme staff members need to have the required (social and interview) skills and meet the basic qualifications. This calls for good support and coordination of the process by a regular person (who carries the load). This person can also be given the responsibility for a proper transfer of tasks between varying unpaid workers, so that the quality and continuity of the guidance process are monitored.
The interview about the outcomes of the Literacy Screener is sometimes conducted by persons who meet the client only once. For a good follow-up, it would perhaps be more beneficial if the discussion about the outcome of the Literacy Screener is assigned to a person who the client sees more often and with whom a relationship of trust has been built up. Furthermore, the pitfall of single contact is that the responsibility for the subsequent steps is lost with the ending of the contact.
In the Dutch approach to low literacy, cooperation in and between organisations is crucial. The decentralisation of educational funds to municipalities has locally been a reason for the willingness to set up and improve the approach and collaboration. In comparison with other European countries, the Netherlands can be regarded as a forerunner in the field of networking. The set-up with language points as a basis of the network has proven to be successful.
Implications and recommendations for policy
In the context of the national action programme Count on Skills (Tel Mee met Taal), the national government has expressed the wish that ‘more social organisations recognise their role in finding and schooling people with low literacy and mutually collaborate well.’ Finding people with low literacy by means of the Literacy Screener is a smooth process in the four organisations that have participated in GOAL. They clearly recognise the added value of screening. Finding people with low literacy, however, is only useful if this is succeeded by a good follow-up. This evaluation study shows that this is often an obstacle and that this should be focused on more specifically in the Dutch approach to low literacy. The Reading and Writing Foundation has a prominent role in this respect. Their support remains important after the Literacy Screener has been implemented successfully, especially to make strict working arrangements about the follow-up in and between organisations. An important question that needs to be answered is what must be asked of organisations in order to make the follow-up a success.
The organisations that are assigned a role in finding persons with low literacy are pursuing a different goal in their daily practice. The national government should create more awareness among organisations and individuals of the (long-term) importance of addressing low literacy. A social service, for instance, should focus on sustainable labour participation instead of on the direct outflow to any available employment.
People with low literacy often also use a short-term vision. The national government is aware of the big challenge of reaching and schooling people with low literacy. The Dutch approach is therefore focused on creating an easily accessible range of educational opportunities that are tailored to the personal situation and needs of people with low literacy. A major finding of the current study is that service users (especially from the social service in the municipality of Emmen) are still insufficiently convinced of the added value of language courses. Together with the organisations, the parties involved should consider how obstacles can be overcome and how people with low literacy can be helped to recognise the personal and practical added value of developing their language skills. Creating a tailor-made range of educational opportunities that allows for this personal and practical added value requires time and a programme staff member who has a relationship (of trust) with the client.
Clients of the social service of the municipality of Emmen mentioned lack of time as a reason for not taking a language course. PIs have the experience that sufficient time may motivate clients to work on their development and take a language course. For clients of the social service, it might help to involve employers in language schooling: in the context of corporate social responsibility, they could offer people with low literacy the opportunity to follow a language course during working hours. Aksept successfully uses this working method in its work processes.