Public, private groups join to battle illiteracy

Up to now, the fight against illiteracy has been hampered by a lack of coordination. Cambridge, Mass., is an example: Roughly halfway between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, the Community Learning Center opens its doors to some 1,000 adults each year. Less than a mile away the Polaroid Corporation runs basic reading courses for less than 20 employees.

Nationally, efforts are fractured among private-sector, federal, state, volunteer, and military initiatives. One private group, the Coalition for Literacy, hopes to integrate such efforts. The first steps are being taken locally.

The City of Boston, for example, announced last month an adult literacy program to help out 14 adult learning centers. Most of the initial $1.2 million will come from federal community-development grants, but the city also hopes to involve Boston businesses. A joint effort begun last year between the city's public schools and the private sector shows that firms want to develop local youth into skilled workers, says Paul Grogan, director of the agency that administers the literacy program.

There will be a similar push for adults as firms realize they will have to rely increasingly on older, foreign-born workers, he says. ''I've always believed that self-interest is the best motivator.''

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