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Details on Adult Basic Education

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Adult education teachers who instruct in adult basic education (ABE) programs-also known in some settings as adult remedial education-may provide adult literacy training; teach adults reading, writing, and mathematics up to the eighth-grade level; teach adults through the twelfth-grade level in preparation for the General Educational Development examination (GED); or work with students who do not speak English.

ABE programs can also provide support to developmentally challenged students to live and work more independently by studying personal/home management, communication, computation, reading, writing, and life skills. In addition, ABE programs can focus on teaching students citizenship skills.

Finally, some adult remedial education programs-also known by the preferred term of developmental programs-are provided at junior colleges, technical-vocational schools, and community colleges to bring students up to the standard required for admittance into credit-bearing courses toward a degree or certificate.


Although adult basic education and adult remedial education sound the same, there are some distinct differences. The major difference between the two is the skill level of the student. Students whose skills fall in the grade one through five level-below the sixth grade level-on a college entrance exam (all colleges and universities, all fields of education-especially developmental- use the sixth grade level as the independent level, especially in reading) are considered unable to function on an independent level in reading, math, or English. Those students are not admitted to a technical college without first enrolling and succeeding in ABE courses to bring up their skill levels.

Adult remediation courses, now mostly known as developmental courses, are designed for students who can function independently (seventh grade and above) but whose test scores on the college entrance exam indicate that their abilities in math, English, or reading need strengthening before they can take the courses required to complete their certificates, diplomas, or associate degrees.

As in all colleges, placement in math, English, or reading classes is determined by scores made on the ASSET entrance exam.

ABE centers are federally funded and located at many facilities in each state. They are separate from colleges and universities. Community colleges legally cannot teach ABE courses, since ABE courses are tuition-free and also offer no credit.


Enrollment in adult remedial education programs is increasing for a number of reasons: More employers are demanding higher levels of basic academic skills-reading, writing, and arithmetic. This spurs the demand for remedial education and GED preparation classes. There is also an increased awareness of the difficulty in finding a good job without basic academic skills.

Also, changes in immigration policy and citizenship requirements mandate a basic competency in English and civics.

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics estimated that about 21 percent of the adult population-more than forty million Americans over the age of sixteen-had only rudimentary reading and writing skills. Most adults at this level could pick out key facts in a brief newspaper article, for example, but could not draft a letter explaining an error on their credit card bill. A subgroup in this category-representing roughly 4 percent of the total adult population, or about eight million people-was unable to perform even the simplest literacy tasks.

What does this all mean? The number of people in the United States desiring ABE, GED, and ESL instruction is on the rise. As public school systems, government agencies, and private enterprises continue to work toward filling the demand, opportunities for ABE and ESL teachers will continue to grow.


Qualifications for many ABE and GED positions are usually the same for any teacher working in a public school system: a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate.

At one time, it was believed that the only qualification necessary to teach English to non-native speakers was to be a native speaker yourself. But these days that school of thought has almost vanished. Before the TESOL profession had firmly established itself as an important and valid discipline, an individual could venture overseas, finding teaching work along the way to cover travel costs and living expenses. Although such situations, tutoring and part-time teaching, do still exist in a few locations, they are quickly shrinking, replaced with quality programs touting qualified and experienced ESL teachers, both at home and abroad.

Most ESL teachers have bachelor's degrees; those working in community colleges and four-year institutions often have master's degrees.
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