National literacy strategy has potential to change lives

08 September 2021

Welcoming the publication of Ireland’s first National Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Skills plan, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the implementation of a national literacy strategy has the potential to end systemic disadvantage in Ireland.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin:

“Today is a momentous day for ending systemic disadvantage and inequality and I welcome the publication of the strategy. 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. Tackling illiteracy will help end disadvantage throughout all aspects of society. While we will examine the details of what’s proposed over the coming days, it is hugely welcome to see steps being taken to tackle illiteracy and disadvantage in Ireland.

“Primary school education in this country is performing well, yet there are still cohorts of young people who are leaving school without adequate literacy and numeracy skills, and a long-term issue that many adults left school without becoming “functionally literate”. Almost 18% of Irish adults are ‘functionally illiterate,’ which means they can’t read simple application forms or medicine bottles, while a third of children from schools in disadvantaged areas lack basic reading skills.

“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 every day.

“In 2006, I began a ‘Right to Read’ campaign as my experiences as a teacher in the North Inner City convinced me that the challenge of defeating childhood illiteracy lay outside the walls of the classroom. The recognition of Ireland’s literacy problem is important, and having an ambitious national strategy will go a long way to change people’s lives for the better. We must strive for the total eradication of illiteracy in Irish society and to demand all state agencies to play their part, with local authorities taking a local lead.

“We need to continue to place improving literacy and numeracy at the heart of educational reform. This is a central issue of equality which needs a commitment from all of the government departments and agencies that interact with our citizens, to ensure that the eradication of illiteracy becomes a national crusade. We will examine the details of the national strategy in the coming days and work with the Department to ensure the eradication of illiteracy.”

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