International review of education vol:46 issue:5 pages:391-405
The authors critically examine some of the underlying epistemological and theoretical assumptions of the IALS. In doing so, they distinguish among two basic orientations towards literacy. First, the standard approach (of which IALS is an example) subscribes to the possibility of measuring literacy as abstract, cognitive skills, and endorses the claim that there is an important relationship between literacy skills and economic success in the so-called 'knowledge society.' The second, called a socio-cultural approach, insists on the contextual and power-related character of people's literacy practices. The authors further illustrate that the assumptions of the IALS are rooted in a neo-liberal ideology that forces all members of society to adjust to the exigencies of the globalised economy. In the current, contingent conditions of the risk society, however, it does not seem very wise to limit the learning of adults to enhancing labour-market competencies. Adult education should relate to the concrete literacy practices people already have in their lives. It should make its learners co-responsible actors of their own learning process and participants in a democratic debate on defining the kind of society people want to build.