Judging by their literacy proficiency scores, Nordic countries stand out from others. Their consistently high scores are intriguing and make their populations interesting benchmarks for other countries that participated in the International Adult Literacy Survey. This article addresses the question of whether there are any specific 'Nordic' ways of planning and implementing adult education policies. Are there any features that define a common approach to adult education, one that sets the Nordic countries apart from other advanced regions in Europe and North America? Beyond the general pattern, specific sub-groups of the population are explored, and especially the groups 'at-risk', i.e. those that score low on literacy proficiency scales, have the least education, are old or unemployed. All Nordic countries are included in the analysis: Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden participated in the original IALS survey, whereas Iceland collected comparable data on adult education participation in a separate survey. That Nordic countries have a comparatively high level of participation in adult education is a fact that leaves no room for discussion. However, if not only the rate of participation but also volume is considered then the Nordic countries appear more similar to others. What sets the Nordic countries apart is the level of public support for adult education for the low-skilled population. More generally, it would seem that public support for disadvantaged groups is the main defining characteristic of Nordic countries. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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