The Mayor’s Commission on Literacy was created in 1983 under an executive order. Its original purpose was to teach adults reading, writing and mathematics. Since then, the commission has expanded to also teach digital literacy and English as a second language.
Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney issued a new executive order officially changing the commission’s name to the Office of Adult Education. Executive director Diane Inverso said the name change was implemented to make the office’s mission clearer – to educate adults in order to help them be successful in the workforce.
“There are individuals who may have high school diplomas and may have college degrees,” Inverso said, “but English may be a second language and they can’t get that kind of job because they can’t speak English.”
The Office of Adult Education assists about 500,000 adults and works with more than 80 literacy and workforce development programs. It serves to help individuals gain skills for a particular job, improve their English, get a high school diploma and learn how to use a computer.
“When you think about what adults needed to be successful in the workplace, even in the 80’s, it’s very different than now,” Inverso said. “In the 80’s, digital skills were not thought about. Now, everybody has to know how to use a computer.”
KEYSPOTs are free public computer centers. They offer Internet access as well as training and programs designed to improve one’s digital literacy. Currently, there are 50 locations throughout the city and they can be found in various community based organizations and recreational centers.
The other program implemented by the Office of Adult Education is MyPlace. MyPlace consists of four campuses in the city where individuals can seek a learning coach to discuss educational and career plans as well as gain digital literacy. Its services are also available online. Since 2014, the program has worked with 11,000 adults.
“These are adults who recognize that they do have this need,” Inverso said, “and that they need some kind of an education to help them with pursuing a better job or wanting to get into a post-secondary class, or getting their diploma.”
The Office of Adult Education does not work alone. It has more than 30 partnering organizations including the Center for Literacy, District 99 Training Fund, Community Learning Center and Congresso. These organizations help to provide locations for learners and tutors.
Many of the tutors hired by the Office of Adult Education are retired teachers who are volunteering to assist. According to volunteer programs manager Catalina Gonzalez, there are 445 trained volunteers this year.
“Many organizations in the city rely heavily on our volunteers,” Gonzalez said. “So, this part of our work is very important in ensuring that the learners have services and access to the education they need.”
With a quarter of a million people in Philadelphia without high school diplomas and almost half-a-million who cannot speak English, there is a clear need for the city to educate its adults and prepare them for the workforce.
“The goal is to put [the Office of Adult Education] out of business,” Inverso said.
– Text, video and images by Aish Menon.