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New in IRE: Adult learning and education and the COVID-19 pandemic

24 June 2020

The International Review of Education – Journal of Lifelong Learning (IRE) has published an article on the crucial role of adult learning and education (ALE) in combatting pandemics.

In ‘Adult learning and education as a tool to contain pandemics: The COVID-19 experience’,  Henrique Lopez, professor of public health at the Catholic University of Portugal and Veronica McKay, expert on adult literacy and learning at the University of South Africa, highlight the need to change individual behaviour to minimise group risk. They argue that ALE can play a pivotal role, particularly in countries where average literacy levels are low, as these are usually the same countries in which healthcare systems are more fragile.

This article explains why ALE, especially the promotion of health literacy as part of ALE, is necessary to enable individuals to make informed health-related decisions. Research has shown that low- or non-literate individuals are less responsive to health education, less likely to use disease prevention services, and less likely to successfully manage chronic disease than literate citizens.

The authors refer to the evaluation of the health literacy aspect of a large-scale adult literacy campaign launched in South Africa in 2008, which yielded measurable outcomes, demonstrating that the intervention enabled adults to better understand health messages. They stress the importance of populations having at least a basic level of literacy and numeracy to enable them to receive and act on vital information during a pandemic or disaster.

Lopez and McKay argue that ALE should be an essential element of national emergency strategies, both in terms of prior preparation for possible future emergencies (such as pandemics, earthquakes, tornados, flooding, bushfires, etc.), and in terms of reaction to a given emergency. Mass training of every social strata of a country’s population is critical in mitigating the current COVID-19 pandemic.

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