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The International Adult Literacy Benchmarks emerged from the larg est ever global consultation of its kind and show that adult literacy programmes can be affordable and effective. However, the ways in which they are interpreted, prioritised and applied will differ somewhat according to the context. As a means of substantiating the benchmarks, follow-up research was conducted in the United Republic of Tanzania and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in collaboration with ActionAid and the Ministries of Education in each country.
In exploring two very distinct literacy policy environments, the research aimed to establish the extent to which the benchmarks apply in each country and are in fact desirable.
Focusing on the use of the Reflect approach to adult lit eracy by both governmental and non-governmental institutions around the countries, the research also examined the compatibility of Reflect with the benchmarks and the broader policy environment. The author is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Education of the University of London. The literacy challenge is far greater than reported: In Vietnam, the research revealed serious inadequacies in official literacy statistics, which mask significant inequalities and even exclude data on certain groups altogether.
Moreover, evidence of participation, completion and achievement rates in both countries shows that schooling alone is not solving the literacy deficit. There are still a considerable number of children who drop out before completing the first five years of primary school and, even more alarming, of those who do complete, many do not acquire the necessary competencies in literacy and numeracy.
Many studies in both Tanzania and Vietnam also stress that the "relapse-rate" is high and this is exacerbated by the lack of a sustaining literacy environment. Unfortunately, both governmental and non-governmental programmes often fail to respond to demand from these vulnerable groups and to mitigate obstacles that are likely to impede participation.