There is increasing demand internationally for methods of education for effective function in a society where every aspect seems to be in a state of rapid transition. As home maintenance, community affairs and regular employment become more complex, the basic skills required for everyday social life at home and at work are also becoming increasingly sophisticated.
In urban neighbourhoods, the need for such knowledge is particularly evident, and urban residents are having to acquire new skills, new work and leisure patterns, new methods of analysis and problem-solving, and new ways to relate to the world and to each other. There has been investment in education with visible benefit, especially at the secondary level, but the needs go far beyond the normally available sets of manual and intellectual skills: formal education is unable to cope with the demands made on it and adult education is either insufficient in scope or inadequate to meet demands. Over-burdened educational structures are symptomatic of the need for an expanded and diversified approach to education in cities.
The needs for improved functional education is even greater in the many rural areas, where the burden of social participation lies mainly with the individual. Some people have a strong desire to engage in social activities but do not have the functional know-how to allow their participation. Families in rural communities are often without the skills they need to manage the complexity of their homes, budget, social rights or even family life. However, no extra training is provided to acquire such skills. Although some effort is being made to upgrade public education systems by providing supplemental programmes and access to vocational courses and specialized training, the skills needed for daily living are not taught or available.
In a survey of French schoolchildren, it was found that although 75% of school-leavers could read, write, add and subtract, fewer than 20% could comprehend in depth the historical or cultural context of what they had read. In problem solving, the same group could readily perform computations but could not devise solutions for problems when the computation was not given.