People of working age lack basic skills in literacy and numeracy

7 Sep 2017
Brian Cody, Kilkenny Senior Hurling Team manager chats with students and the Minister for Education and Skills at the launch of ‘Take the first step’, our joint campaign with ETBs and SOLAS to encourage adults to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

Minister launches new campaign to encourage adults to 'Take the first step' to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

 

“Too many people of working age lack the basic skills in literacy and numeracy to participate fully in both work and society,” Dr Anthony Mann, OECD Senior Policy Analyst

 

Details of a public information campaign called ‘Take the first step’ will be launched today at a conference in Dublin organised by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA). The purpose of the campaign is to encourage adults who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to contact the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) to get the help they need. Supported by Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), SOLAS (the Further Education and Training Authority) and NALA, the opportunity is free and open to all, with participants able to choose what, where and when they want to learn. The campaign is being launched at a conference to mark UNESCO International Literacy Day (8 September) which is being celebrated across the globe under the theme this year of ‘Literacy in a digital world’.

Speaking before the conference, keynote speaker Dr Anthony Mann, OECD Senior Policy Analyst, Skills Beyond School, Directorate for Education and Skills said: “Skills have become the global currency of dynamic twenty-first century economies – driving economies and transforming lives. Far too many people of working age lack the basic skills in literacy and numeracy necessary to participate fully in both work and society. Improving these skills is a deserving priority for nations around the world.”

The most recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills showed that 550,000 Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a five level literacy scale. 750,000 Irish adults are at or below level 1 for numeracy, and over one million adults are at or below level 1 on using technology to complete tasks. At these levels, individuals may not be able to fill in an application form, add up a bill, search the web, vote or help children with homework.

The survey showed that people with the lowest skill levels have low educational attainment, earn less income and are more likely to be unemployed. They also risk being trapped in a situation in which they rarely benefit from adult learning, and their skills remain weak or deteriorate over time.

The ‘Take the first step’ campaign includes radio and video advertising that features four students sharing their positive stories about returning to education to improve their literacy and numeracy with the objective of encouraging others to reap the rewards by doing the same. All of these students are early school leavers who have struggled with literacy and numeracy difficulties throughout their life.

Dr Inez Bailey, NALA CEO said: “In all countries surveyed, individuals with literacy and numeracy difficulties are more likely to report poor health, to believe that they have little impact on political processes, and are also less likely to trust others. Taken together, the results emphasise the importance of literacy and numeracy skills for a more inclusive society – in people’s participation in the labour market, education and training, and in social and civic life. Often people who return to education say the hardest part was making the first call or taking the first step into an Adult Education Centre. The aim of this campaign is to encourage people to take the first step to get the help they need. We want people to know they are not alone and there are lots of options to suit their needs.”

The ‘Take the first step’ campaign aims to encourage adults who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to contact a Freephone support line 1800 20 20 65 to get the help they need. Once they make contact the National Adult Literacy Agency will put them in contact with their local ETB Adult Education Centre or tell them about other free services that will meet their needs. Currently in Ireland there are 50,000 adults attending literacy courses in ETB adult education centres nationwide.

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For further information, please contact: Clare McNally or Patrick Gleeson, National Adult Literacy Agency: 01 412 7900 / 086 792 5363.

Background information:

At the conference Dr Mann’s presentation will cover these questions:

• Why does the OECD test skills? Why do skills matter?
• Are qualifications and skills the same thing?
• How does Ireland do on the tests?
• Which countries do better? How do they solve the problem? What should Ireland be doing more of?

Dr Inez Bailey’s presentation will discuss:

With increasing qualification inflation around the globe and skills levels becoming the new currency, the importance of lifelong learning with be critical as we will all need to develop and learn new skills throughout life. In Ireland nearly 30% of the workforce has only Junior Certificate or less, while 10% has only primary level or no formal qualifications at all. In most countries, adults with already-high levels of literacy and numeracy skills tend to participate more in adult education, while those with lower levels of skills participate less – and often much less. This means that organizations and companies must also develop innovative new ways to develop the skills and knowledge of existing employees.

About the OECD survey

The most recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills showed that one in six Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a five level literacy scale. One in four Irish adults are at or below level 1 for numeracy, and two in five are at or below level 1 on using technology to complete tasks.

For this survey the Central Statistics Office (CSO) interviewed 6,000 people aged 16 – 65 in Ireland and assessed their literacy, numeracy and ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks. The survey was conducted in Ireland between August 2011 and March 2012. The results were announced in October 2013.

Who does it affect?

It affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Within the one in six figure there are people who are not able to write their own name. However, most adults with low literacy skills can read something but find it hard to understand official forms and instructions. Some will have left school confident about their numeracy and reading skills but find that changes in their workplace and everyday life make their skills inadequate. The literacy skills demanded by society are changing all the time.

Does it predominately affect older people?

There can be an intergenerational impact – parents who have literacy difficulties may then not be able to support their own children with their reading and writing. This can lead to their children falling behind and in turn having literacy difficulties or a negative experience of school. Research shows that children encouraged to read and learn at home quickly develop better literacy skills.

What stops people from returning to learning?

Sometimes people are not able to see the benefits to returning to learning. They had a negative experience of school in the past and associate returning to learning with that experience.

There is also a stigma attached to low literacy and numeracy skills. Often people feel too embarrassed to return to learning and go to great extremes to hide their difficulties from their friends and family. However, this does not have to be the case. Adult education is a very different experience to school. Adult learning is all about addressing the needs of the learner, working at a pace that suits them and according to their needs and interests.

What are the benefits to returning to learning?

Throughout Ireland, lots of people are returning to learning and brushing up on their reading, writing and maths skills. They are people who want to catch up on the skills they missed at school, parents who want to help children with their homework, workers who would like to go for promotion but don’t have the confidence to sit an exam and there are those who would simply like to write a letter or send an email.

Whatever the reason, the benefits are always the same. Not only do people improve their old skills but they also gain the confidence to go on to learn new ones. Although it requires some hard work, it’s a great experience that opens up a whole new world of opportunities in a friendly and relaxed environment. And it’s not like going back to school. Everyone learns at their own pace and there aren’t any exams at the end.

Adult literacy provision in Ireland

There are currently 50,000 students in ETB (formerly VEC) Adult Literacy Services.