Literacy and Basic Education

Ein Patienten übt in der Praxis eines Logopäden mit Kärtchen auf denen einzelne Worte stehen

Those who cannot read and write or can only read and write with great difficulty are excluded from many opportunities to understand the world and to participate in shaping society.

Every eighth adult in Germany cannot read and write sufficiently. The LEO study of the University of Hamburg in 2018 states that 6.2 million German-speaking adults aged 18-64 live with low literacy, i.e., the level of their written language skills is below the text level. Work instructions, safety instructions, package inserts and timetables are major hurdles for these people.

Berlin Strategy for Literacy and Basic Education

If adults cannot read and write sufficiently, it has an impact in many areas of life, for example, in the family, at work, when dealing with authorities and in leisure activities. As a result, literacy and basic education are not just an issue for adult education.

That is why the Berlin Senate decided on a strategy for literacy and basic education on 1 September 2015. Its motto has been “Promote basic education – strengthen participation”, and it aims to improve the written language and basic educational skills of Berlin young people and adults who find reading and writing difficult. The various work areas of the Berlin administration have agreed on a joint approach and have become involved with more than 30 actions:

As part of the Senate strategy, important projects have been initiated that are increasingly shaping basic education work in Berlin. Among others, a support programme for literacy and basic education has been set up in which learning opportunities are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) and state funds. The Berlin Basic Education Centre has developed up a wide range of training courses to sensitize employees in Berlin facilities and institutions to the topic and has introduced the Berlin Alpha Seal. In addition, the Basic Education Centre actively supports networking at the local level in district Alpha Alliances.

Basic Education Help Desk

The contact point for basic education was set up in fall 2012 as a coordinating office for literacy and basic education for the State of Berlin in the Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family. It serves as an information centre for administrative departments, providers and social partners and offers advice for interested parties and those affected. It organises and coordinates activities on the issue of literacy and basic education in Berlin and oversees the network partners of the Round Table from numerous Berlin facilities and institutions.

"Literacy and Basic Education" Round Table

In 2013 the Berlin Literacy and Basic Education Round Table resumed its activities. It was launched by the Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family and has since developed into a Berlin-wide network for literacy and basic education.

Involved in the Round Table are administration departments, adult education centres (VHS), providers of literacy programmes and basic education measures as well as institutions and associations from business and society, the Federal Employment Agency and the German Trade Union Confederation. The Round Table serves to pass on information, meets for semi-annual conferences that offer an opportunity for a professional exchange of ideas and advises the Senate Department on the implementation of its measures.

The Berlin Basic Education Centre

Logo Grundbildungszentrum

The Berlin Basic Education Centre opened in 2014. It is the central point of contact for information, advice and networking on the subject of literacy and basic education.

With its regular training offerings for employees of Berlin institutions and with the award of the Alpha Seal, the Basic Education Centre is implementing two of the three Senate Strategy’s key actions at institutions in Berlin. This year the Berlin Alpha Seal will also b introduced in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Adults who are currently learning or improving reading and writing in a course are also included in a variety of activities.

A great deal of information is available on the website of the Basic Education Centre :

  • In the Basic Education Atlas you can find the Berlin courses and counselling offerings arranged by district.
  • In the Information Collection information and materials are offered that are suitable for different target groups, for example, for those affected as well as for course leaders or companies.
  • Under Current you will find information on the subject of literacy and basic education beyond Berlin’s city limits.
  • Dates of training courses, advanced training for course instructors, workshops and specialist events in Berlin and nationwide are announced under the heading Dates.
  • Berlin job offers in the field of basic education are published in the Job Exchange. Course instructors can also be included in the job exchange if they are looking for a job.

ESF funding programme for literacy and basic education 2014 - 2020

In the 2014-2020 funding period of the European Social Fund (ESF), the State of Berlin set up a support programme for literacy and basic education for the first time. Its aim is to expand the range of offerings for adults to learn and improve their written language.

At present, 12 projects are being funded by the ESF and the state budget. More information about these Projects can be found on the website of EFG European Funding Management GmbH, which implements as a service company the ESF funding in the state of Berlin together with the specialist offices in the Senate departments.

A new call for ESF projects, probably the last one for funding instrument 9A in the funding period 2014-2020, has been published on the website of EFG GmbH European Funding Management. The application period ends on April 30th, 2021. The requested project duration must be in the period from July 1st, 2021 to June 30th, 2023 and can therefore be a maximum of 2 years.

Advanced training for Berlin course leaders in literacy and basic education for German-speaking adults

The “Advanced training of course leaders in offerings for German-speaking, functionally illiterate people and adults with reading and spelling weaknesses” was developed by experienced practitioners on behalf of the Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family and has been offered in an annual round in Berlin since autumn 2017. It is designed for course instructors who work in the field of literacy and basic education for German-speaking adults and for those who are interested in and intend to engage in this activity.

*Concept with a holistic learning approach
The concept of the advanced training follows a holistic learning approach by empowering the course instructors to take into account the individual life situations and learning biographies of the course participants during their support. In addition, possible correlations to reading and spelling weaknesses in adults are addressed.

*Planning and carrying out advanced trainings
Based on the concept, organisers of qualification measures for adult education can plan and carry out an advanced training whose goal is basic qualification for course instructors to work in literacy and basic education for German-speaking adults. However, parts of the concept can also be used for a training course.

  • The training concept can be found on the Berlin Brandenburg education server at this Link zu finden.

Registration procedure for the fourth round

Exact information on the content, organisation and registration procedure for the 2020/21 round can be found in this announcement letter. Included in the letter are changes to the previous rounds because of possible containment measures due to the corona pandemic. The registration period ends on 10 July 2020.

  • Waiting list
    After the registration period has expired and during the ongoing round, interested people can be added to the waiting list. The form for an entry on the waiting list is included in this information letter.

Berlin Alpha Alliances

There is currently an Alpha Alliance in ten of Berlin’s 12 districts. The establishment of alliances in the districts of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Steglitz-Zehlendorf is in the planning stage.

The networking of advice centres, citizen-oriented offices and authorities as well as institutions with citizen contacts is supported at the district level through the Alpha Alliances. This serves to lower access barriers to advice and information offerings for people with reading and writing difficulties and facilitates their referral to a suitable learning offering.

The Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family has been supporting the development and network activities of local Alpha Alliances since 2017. The coordination offices of the alliances in ten districts are currently receiving funding: Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Lichtenberg, Marzahn-Hellersdorf, Mitte, Reinickendorf, Pankow, Spandau, Steglitz-Zehlendorf and Treptow-Köpenick.

The Berlin Basic Education Centre serves as the umbrella for the alliances, organises the exchange of expertise among them and is available as a contact for development and network projects.

The free ALFA Phone offers anonymous advice for those affected, for relatives and people they trust.

The alliances and their contact details as well as offerings of help and advice:

Decade for Literacy 2016-2026

Logo AlphaDekade

In the coming years until 2026, the Federal government, the Federal states and additional Partners will be making extensive efforts as part of the National Decade for Literacy and Basic Education to counteract low literacy among adults and to increase the level of basic education, for example, by researching the causes of low literacy, by professionalizing teachers in literacy and by providing needs-based advice, learning and support offerings.

In a Policy paper for the National Decade of Literacy and Basic Education, the Decade partners have summarized their objectives and recommendations for action, and the Work programme, which is updated annually, is appended as an attachment. The federal states have again put their projects in concrete terms in a 10 point programme.

Every year there is also a conference in which an exchange of ideas and discussions on technical topics take place. The “AlphaDekade Conference 2019” was dominated by the new LEO Study 2018 – Living with Low Literacy. The documentation of the Conference 2019 is published online on the AlphaDekade website.

The “AlphaDekade Conference 2020” had to be cancelled because of the containment measures due to the corona pandemic.

The AlphaDekade emerged from the “National Strategy for Literacy and Basic Education” (2012 – 2016), in which the federal government, the federal states and their partners agreed on a joint approach. The Final Report on the National Strategy presents, among other things, the level of development and the results in the individual federal states up to 2016.

Federal initiatives during the AlphaDekade

Project funding

As part of the AlphaDekade, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding Research and development projects that are targeted at the transfer of proven model projects for work-related literacy and basic education, among other things.

Three of these model projects were tested by Berlin project sponsors in the period 2012-2015 and are supported as transfer projects for using the findings as well as consolidating established structures and their dissemination: KASA, eVideoTransfer 2 and INA Care 2.

In addition, other projects with locations in Berlin are also active, e.g., Alpha Mobil and MENTO. In a new focus, projects are being supported on the issues of “outreach for basic education offerings” and “real-life approaches” in the Berlin Alpha element project.

In addition, the Federal Ministry of Education and the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs are funding offerings of Multigenerational houses to improve reading, writing and arithmetic skills in adults. In Berlin, 13 multi-generational houses are receiving additional funding.

Coordination Office

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has established an AlphaDekade Coordination Office in the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) in Bonn.

Information on the Federal activities can be found on the AlphaDekade website.

Reading and Writing - My Key to the World

Having difficulties with writing is still a taboo in Germany. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has launched a nationwide information campaign Reading & Writing – My Key to the World to reach those affected and their surroundings on the one hand and to raise public awareness of the problem on the other.


Further information

Learning platforms

Technical information