ERIC Identifier: ED334873
Publication Date: 1991-09-00
Author: Bartlett, Karen J. - Vargas, Flavio O.
Source: National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education Washington
Literacy Education for Adult Migrant Farmworkers. ERIC
Mobility affects every aspect of the lives and learning of migrant farmworkers.
Although migrants bring few belongings as they travel from crop to crop
and from labor camp to labor camp, they do bring a wealth of experience,
motivation, and resourcefulness. Effective migrant camp literacy programs
must be sensitive to the particular educational challenges facing migrant
farmworkers, and at the same time foster and build on their strengths.
This digest describes the population of migrant farmworkers, some of the
challenges in meeting their educational needs, and some of the programs
that have been developed to serve them.
WHO ARE MIGRANT FARMWORKERS?
Migrant farmworkers follow the crops across the country, returning to
home states or home countries for the winter harvest season. Because migrants
move continually and are often undocumented, the migrant population is
difficult to count. A recent study estimated that there are 1,661,875 migrant
farmworkers in the United States (Migrant Health Program, 1990). The majority
are between 25 and 44 years old and have an average of 5.5 years of schooling
(Slaughter & Associates, 1991). Most migrants are Latinos; of these,
most are from Mexico, while others are from Central America and Puerto
Rico. They come to the United States for a variety of economic and political
reasons. Many are not literate in their native language, which is usually
CHALLENGES TO EDUCATION
Educational programs for migrant farmworkers face a number of challenges.
One challenge is that migrants must move from one program to the other
as they follow the crops, and there is little coordination from one program
to another. Exhausted learners, many of whom are unaccustomed to formal
schooling, must learn the systems of each new program and often must undergo
repetitive assessment and entry procedures. Moreover, no national record
system exists to track the progress of adults. The migrant student record
transfer system, used to track elementary and high school students, is
not available for adults.
Chronic barriers to education include lack of transportation to class
sites and lack of child care. The transportation problem is especially
acute on the East Coast, where workers rely on crew bosses for transportation
to work and classes. A camp-based program with mobile teaching units eliminates
the need for transportation to community class sites, but such an approach
is beyond the resources of many programs. Most in-camp programs instead
rely on traveling teachers who bring materials into the camp. Although
child care is sometimes organized for classes held away from the camp in
community settings, adults attending in-camp classes often bring their
children with them. Poor health, exhaustion, and fear of detection by immigration
authorities may also discourage a migrant from making the effort to attend
Those migrant workers who are undocumented are often afraid to apply
to programs, even when they are eligible. With the Special Agricultural
Workers (SAW) legalization program, many farmworkers had access to literacy
education through the amnesty education programs administered through SLIAG
(State Legalization Impact Assistance Grant). However, literacy programs
operating under SLIAG are not reimbursed for teaching undocumented workers,
and not all programs are ready to receive the influx of learners with low
levels of literacy.
Successful programs need to include support services such as child care,
food assistance, health care, and immigration and legal assistance administered
by bilingual and culturally sensitive individuals.
EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS FOR MIGRANTS
There are two types of educational programs available to migrant workers--homestate
and upstream, either of which might take place in the migrant camp or in
a community location. The homestate program is located in the migrants'
winter base of operation--usually Texas, Florida, or California--where
the harvest season is longer and they work for the longest stretch of the
year without moving. Homestate programs allow longer class sessions with
possible re-enrollment from winter to winter, but migrants still lose newly
developed skills during the extended time when they are working in other
areas and have limited access to classes.
Upstream programs, for migrants working away from their home state,
face many challenges. Migrants often work longer hours, since summer days
are longer, and they move frequently, so their contact with the program
is brief. These programs must be flexible, even conducting late night classes.
Many upstream programs cannot meet the challenges of flexible scheduling
and uneven attendance that intensive harvest work creates. However, even
a short-term positive experience with education can enhance a learner's
self-confidence and willingness to continue learning (Freire & Macedo,
Whether homestate or upstream, in-camp programs with social assistance
components are the most effective. They can provide migrant farmworkers
with the resources they need, recruit and retain learners more effectively,
and tie classroom learning to the camp environment. Classes held in community
locations such as in churches or schools might enjoy better light, educational
equipment such as blackboards and chairs, and less noise, but transportation
difficulties and the possible intimidation of a formal setting for an unaccustomed
(and perhaps undocumented) learner might not always be worth it. In the
camp, learners are on their home ground and can operate from a position
Whatever the type of program, almost all providers of literacy education
for adults agree that it must be designed around the needs of the students.
Auerbach (in press), for example, argues that the process in successful
programs is "from the students to the curriculum rather than from the curriculum
to the students." To meet the needs of adult learners with limited time
in a program, personal goal setting is crucial, with instructional materials
capitalizing on the learning styles and strategies of the students (see
Pharness, in press). Slaughter & Associates (1991), for example, recommend
an individually tailored approach of case management that includes both
education and support services.
Many programs offer competency-based, survival skills, or life-skills
curricula. If created with learner participation, these curricula can be
effective. But it is wrong to assume that all migrant farmworker learners
need or want the same units of instruction; a migrant cannot wait to complete
standardized units before taking up individually relevant tasks. Only the
learner can define what a "competency" or "life skill" means personally,
and those definitions inevitably change as the learner's circumstances
change. (For further discussion see Auerbach & Burgess, 1985.)
Traditional programs that are text-oriented, test-managed, and teacher-controlled
are unlikely to meet the needs of migrant learners who have little experience
with formal education, may lack self-confidence in educational settings,
and must realize success quickly. Participatory or learner-centered programs
that identify and build on the experiences of the learner, involve learners
in setting individual and program goals, and employ confidence-building
assessments have a greater chance of success.
The choice of staff is also crucial. Bilingual and culturally sensitive
recruiters and teachers are needed to cope with the apprehensiveness of
new learners, especially the undocumented. Bilingual staff can also better
facilitate needs assessments, discussion circles, and other learner-centered
activities as well as provide native language literacy instruction (for
discussion see Rivera, 1990). These teachers need training and support
in curriculum design, materials development, and techniques for managing
individual and group instruction in mixed-level classes with uneven student
The key to addressing the long-term challenges of literacy instruction
for migrant farmworkers lies in the involvement of learners in program
development and delivery. Regular feedback from learners can keep classes
and programs on track and provide teachers with essential information for
scheduling classes, planning units of instruction, and providing support
services. Where possible, migrants might also serve on curriculum planning
committees, critique proposed materials, and serve on advisory boards that
meet in camp locations at times convenient to the workers.
Many additional changes need to occur before literacy programs will
truly meet the needs of adult migrant farmworkers, and programs need support
while these changes are developing. Support could take the following forms:
- Involve learners as teachers, teacher trainers, curriculum advisors,
and board members.
- Centralize information from effective programs, including material
on program administration and practical class techniques.
- Develop interest sections in existing associations to address farmworker
- Conduct non-traditional assessments that allow programs to track learner
- Establish a national record-keeping system for adult migrant learners.
- Establish a national professional association of migrant farmworker
literacy administrators and staff for training, networking, and policy
- Increase the allocation of government funds for adult migrant programs.
- Develop sources of non-government funding for the education of undocumented
PROGRAMS FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
The following articles describe programs serving migrant adults:
Fountain, C. (1983). The lessons of HEP: Education, career education
and enrichment. "Journal of Employment Counseling," 20 (3), 122-127. (EDRS
No. ED 286 359)
Valerien, J. (1990). "Literacy training of migrants and of their families
and cultural identity: Literacy lessons." Geneva, Switzerland: International
Bureau of Education. (EDRS No. ED 321 070)
The following directories list programs serving migrant adults:
Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs. (1988). "Building educational
foundations: A survey of the literacy initiatives undertaken by the Job
Training Partnership Act, Title IV." Washington, DC: Author. (EDRS No.
ED 315 624)
Quezada-Aragon, M. L. (1986). "A directory of organizations and programs
in migrant education." Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education
and Small Schools. (EDRS No. ED 279 483)
Salerno, A. (1989). "Directory of programs: High School Equivalency
Program (HEP) and College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP)." Tallahassee,
FL: Florida State Dept. of Education. (EDRS No. ED 319 454)
Salerno, A., & Fink, M. (1989). "Dropout retrieval programs." Tallahassee:
Florida State Department of Education. (EDRS No. ED 318 587)
Auerbach, E. (in press). "Making meaning, making change: A guide to
participatory curriculum development for adult ESL and family literacy."
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents, Center for Applied Linguistics.
Auerbach, E., & Burgess, D. (1985). The hidden curriculum of survival
ESL. "TESOL Quarterly," 19, 475-495.
Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). "Literacy: Reading the word and
the World." South Hadley, MA: Bergin-Garvey.
Migrant Health Program. (1990). "An atlas of state profiles which estimate
number of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and members of their families."
Rockville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Pharness, G. (in press). "A learner-centered worker education program."
Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education.
Rivera, K. M. (1990). "Developing native language literacy in language
minority adult learners." Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse on Literacy
Slaughter & Associates. (1991). "The education of adult migrant
farmworkers." Woodland Hills, CA: U.S. Dept. of Education.