International Review of Education

, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 295–326 | Cite as

Lifelong literacy: Some trends and issues in conceptualising and operationalising literacy from a lifelong learning perspective

  • Ulrike HanemannEmail author
Original Paper


In a fast-changing and highly inequitable world, lifelong learning is becoming increasingly important, not only as a key organising principle for all forms of education and learning but also as an absolute necessity for everyone. It is particularly important for disadvantaged individuals and groups who have been excluded from or failed to acquire basic competencies through formal schooling. Within a lifelong learning framework, literacy and numeracy are viewed as foundation skills which are the core of basic education and indispensable to full participation in society. This article discusses recent developments in conceptualising literacy as a foundation of lifelong learning. Starting from the evolving notions of adult literacy, the author identifies some current trends, the most important being that literacy is now perceived as a learning continuum of different proficiency levels. Dichotomous states of being either “literate” or “illiterate” no longer apply. She analyses (1) findings extracted from UNESCO Member States’ national reports submitted to the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) for the 2nd Global Report on Adult Learning and Education; (2) a desk study of national literacy campaigns and programmes as well as (3) some recent developments in formal education. Her suggested three-dimensional analytical framework considers literacy as a lifelong and life-wide learning process and as part of lifelong learning systems. She draws a number of conclusions for policy and practice of literacy as a foundation of lifelong learning. These conclusions are a timely contribution to the ongoing post-2015 education debate, in particular to the challenge of how to mainstream youth and adult literacy into the implementation of the sustainable development agenda for 2015–2030.


Literacy Lifelong learning Adult learning Post-2015 education agenda 


Apprentissage tout au long de la vie : tendances et enjeux dans la conceptualisation et l’opérationnalisation de l’alphabétisation dans une perspective d’apprentissage tout au long de la vie – Dans un monde marqué par une évolution accélérée et une grande inégalité, l’apprentissage tout au long de la vie revêt une importance croissante, en tant que grand principe organisateur de toutes les formes d’éducation et d’apprentissage, mais aussi comme nécessité absolue pour chaque individu. Il est particulièrement important pour les personnes et groupes défavorisés qui ont été privés de l’acquisition des compétences de base dans la scolarité formelle ou y ont échoué. Dans un cadre d’apprentissage tout au long de la vie, la littératie et la numératie sont les compétences fondamentales qui sont au cœur de l’éducation de base et indispensables à une pleine participation à la société. Le présent article analyse l’évolution récente dans la conceptualisation de l’alphabétisation en tant que fondement de l’apprentissage tout au long de la vie. À partir des notions évolutives de l’alphabétisation des adultes, l’auteure identifie quelques tendances actuelles, la plus importante prônant l’alphabétisation comme un processus continu d’apprentissage qui gravit les différents niveaux de maîtrise. La dichotomie entre individus « lettrés » et « illettrés » n’a plus cours. L’auteure analyse les sources suivantes : (1) des conclusions tirées des rapports nationaux des États membres de l’UNESCO soumis à l’Institut de l’UNESCO pour l’apprentissage tout au long de la vie (UIL) en vue du second Rapport mondial sur l‘apprentissage et l’éducation des adultes, (2) une étude sur documents des campagnes et programmes nationaux d’alphabétisation, et (3) l’évolution récente dans l’enseignement formel. Le cadre analytique tridimensionnel qu’elle préconise pose l’alphabétisation en processus d’apprentissage couvrant tous les aspects et toutes les phases de la vie et intégré dans les systèmes d’apprentissage tout au long de la vie. Elle tire de nombreuses conclusions pour les politiques et pratiques de l’alphabétisation conçue comme fondement de l’apprentissage tout au long de la vie. Ces conclusions sont une contribution opportune au débat actuel sur l’éducation pour l’après 2015, en particulier au défi d’insérer l’alphabétisation des jeunes et des adultes dans la mise en œuvre du programme pour le développement durable 2015–2030.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNESCO Institute for Lifelong LearningHamburgGermany

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