When Glenys Kinnock accompanied her husband, British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, on a two-day official visit to Washington, he asked to be invited to the White House and she asked to visit Howard County Community College.
A teacher who has been identified with peace, antiapartheid and women's issues, Glenys Kinnock said she wanted to see how adult literacy classes are working in this country, college officials said.
During a brief tour of the college before she was whisked back to Washington for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Kinnock quizzed a dozen low-income women in a class in basic skills and job preparation about the value of such courses. The classes are in part federally funded and designed to help adults move out of poverty.
"We are taking these courses so we can survive," one woman told Kinnock. "Any person in this room could go out and get a $5-an-hour job, but you can't live on it."
"Do you find the curriculum interesting?" Kinnock asked. "Many of you may have not had good experiences with education in the past."
"That's an understatement," one student replied.
"The big difference is, we're all here because we want to be here," another added.
" . . . If you can start something in your country, even if it's only two hours a month, it's worth it."
Kinnock told the students she is interested in expanding British adult education programs that help break the cycle of poverty. She said she was directed to Howard County because of the college's reputation for innovative remediation classes. The students, typically high school dropouts, are mostly young mothers on welfare.
Britain has a growing population of families headed by unemployed or underemployed women, Kinnock told reporters afterward. In the London school where she teaches, she said, "a big proportion of our children have single mothers who are in poverty."
Patricia Keeton, the Howard Community College coordinator of the basic skills program, said participants attend classes 24 hours a week and receive individual tutoring and counseling to help them choose career paths. Some of the dozen women in the class visited by Kinnock said they plan to continue taking courses this fall.
Keeton said participants take the remedial course "as long as they need it," for as little as two weeks or up to six months.
The courses are funded in part by Maryland's Project Independence, which receives its money from the federal Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program created by welfare-overhaul legislation two years ago.
Keeton said Britain also is attempting to cope with an increasing phenomenon of homelessness among people who can't find jobs. She said this is resulting in large part because teenagers are not attending vocational schools, the traditional step after secondary school for those who do not attend college.
Remedial classes for the underemployed are "scattered and not well unified" in England, she said. "And Britain's resources are even more limited than ours."