At present Ireland is developing a ten-year Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy (ALNDS). An important question for the INOU is how the development of ALNDS will interact with the Department of Social Protection’s forthcoming Pathways to Work strategy and SOLAS’ Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy. The FETS is based around three pillars: skills, pathways and inclusion, which would be important for a strategy seeking to address adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy skills.
In the Consultation Paper for ALNDS five key themes were identified:
- Different meanings of literacy, numeracy and digital literacy for adults.
- Improving awareness of and access to literacy, numeracy and digital literacy support for adults.
- Bridging the digital divide.
- Priorities and actions.
- Measuring success.
Different meanings of literacy, numeracy and digital literacy for adults
The consultation document definition of literacy covers a broad range including functional; interactive; critical; media; media and information; financial; environmental; and health. There are many people who may feel they do not have a literacy problem per se, but who may well struggle with one or more of these areas of life as they may feel they have insufficient knowledge to evaluate the information presented to them as they would like.
INOU affiliates have noted with concern the expectation in FET provision that potential participants should be able to engage with QQI Level 5 courses, when they are working with people who would struggle with completing a Level 4 course. Literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy challenges can be at the heart of this issue and must be addressed.
A mixture of targeted and integrated provision will be required. Targeted provision should focus on the needs of particular groups and individuals whose literacy challenges are a consequence of and contributing factor to their marginalisation in Irish society. Community based providers are particularly important for this type of engagement. Integrated provision could be particularly useful in supporting people to upskill, develop new skills, explore the transferability of their know-how to emerging opportunities.
Improving awareness of and access to literacy, numeracy and digital literacy support for adults
Over a ten-year period, it will be essential to ensure that the range of provision will be such that adult literacy, numeracy and digital literacy levels in Ireland will improve markedly. The Consultation paper covers these issues across people’s lives and society, but a critical aspect for the INOU is how a lack of these skills may prevent unemployed people from moving into decent employment. The provision of good career and educational guidance will be critical to support people to access the best option.
Bridging the digital divide
The current pandemic has highlighted the extent of the digital divide ranging from a lack of resources to no or poor broadband to inappropriate equipment to overcrowded accommodation. The system itself has also struggled to facilitate on-line provision at short notice, on the scale required and for an uncertain duration.
Face-to-face engagement is a critical aspect of the provision seeking to address people’s literacy needs. Community based providers have availed of on-line tools to support learners, maintain the links between the provider and the learner, and develop their own skills to maintain their work. It would be important to capture the learning from the challenges COVID-19 has thrown up, how people coped, and the responses they developed.
Priorities and actions
The INOU is keenly aware that the impact of a lack of ALND skills is broader than a person’s ability to secure a decent job, that for many people their health, their ability to support their children’s learning, and their engagement with the state are also affected.
Nevertheless, the provision of good information on the options that are available to unemployed people and people employed in low skilled employment will be critical. The Public Employment Service in conjunction with the Education and Training Boards have key roles to play in this regard.
Improved integration and transition between the employment services, and supports and meaningful education and training opportunities will be required over the coming period. Good quality guidance will be critical to getting the referrals and matching piece correct.
Organisations working on the ground in the provision of literacy note that an informal approach often works better for people in greatest need, particularly if their experience of the formal education system was not a constructive one. The gathering of data that facilitates the measurement of progress for as broad a range of people as possible can present its own challenges.
It will be absolutely critical that the measurements used are seen as assisting in addressing Ireland’s ALND challenges. Establishing a baseline off which to measure progress will be important: the work of the CSO, OECD, and in particular the PIACC survey will be helpful.
Qualitative research also has an important role to play and can be particularly useful in capturing critical but less tangible benefits. Over a ten year period it will be important to plan a programme of qualitative research and to support organisations working on the ground to capture as fully as possible the impact of their work.
To read the INOU full submission to SOLAS please follow this link.