Single State agency required to tackle Ireland’s literacy problem

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
26 April 2021

Following news that the numbers contacting the National Adult Literacy Agency (Nala) continues to rise during the pandemic, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD has called for the introduction of a single State agency to tackle Ireland’s literacy problem. Key to increasing literacy across adults will be improving the standards and terms of adult literacy tutors, who have an outstanding Labour Court recommendation that must be implemented without delay.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“The increase in the number of people asking for help with their literacy skills throughout the pandemic shows the need to implement a national literacy strategy, with the introduction of a single State agency dedicated to literacy at the heart of this. Right now, nine government departments deal with the issue, which means there’s no focus on this national issue. Supported by Nala, Labour would like to see the introduction of a Literacy Ireland programme to create a joined up government strategy to improve outcomes in adult literacy levels, with a particular focus on people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Nala’s findings suggest that there are many adults in Irish society who are “functionally illiterate”. Ireland’s high rate of illiteracy affects people across the generations including those who currently suffer deprivation and educational disadvantage, older early school leavers, and some who simply didn’t keep up their reading skills after leaving school.

“OECD studies show that poverty and low literacy are two sides of the same coin, and lead to the perpetuation of inequality later in life. That’s why we must be strategic about fixing literacy rates in Ireland and have a joined-up government approach on this, with a particular focus on people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Literacy Ireland would promote social inclusion and equality, the use of ‘Plain English’ by all public agencies, businesses and NGOs, the inclusion of people with disabilities, inclusion of migrants and developing literacy and numeracy teaching at all levels of education.

“Literacy is also a barrier to the full integration of migrants into Irish society, who may not have English as their native language and who, in some cases, may not have adequate literacy in their native language either. The past year we have been swamped by written public health guidance and messaging on signs in shops, buildings, and signage thorough the country. Ensuring a good standard of literacy throughout the population is so important to ensure ease of access to information everyday.

“Key to increasing adult literacy in particular are our adult literacy tutors who still have an outstanding Labour Court recommendation that needs to be implemented. We note that the Minister currently has a ten year strategy for adult literacy, but it will not be possible without investment in the teachers who are the touchpoint at a community level.

“Article 42 of the Constitution commits the State to provide for free primary education and pledges that the State “as guardian of the common good” will ensure that “children receive a certain minimum education”. Literacy is one of the most basic aspects of education. A Literacy Ireland programme would put the right foundations in place and build supports to aid all people with literacy and numeracy.”

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