Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 12 June, 2001
Other Questions. - Adult Education.
Mr. Creed Mr. Creed
65. Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science the estimated levels of adult literacy difficulties; the numbers being reached by current Government initiatives in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17056/01]
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: An international adult literacy survey conducted in 1995, and published in 1997, provided a profile of the literacy skills of adults aged 16 to 64. Respondents were grouped by literacy level, which ranged from level one, low, through levels two and three to levels four and five, high. About 25% of the Irish population, some 500,000 people, were found to score at the lowest literacy level, 30% at level two, 32% at level three and 13% at levels four and five. At best, adults with OECD level one skills performed tasks which required the reader to locate a simple piece of information in a text with no distracting information and when the structure of the text assists the task. Level two allows for more complex tasks of locating and integrating easily identifiable information and performing qualitative tasks involving a single operation. Level three was seen by the OECD as the minimum level needed to cope with the demands of everyday life and work in a complex advanced society, while levels four and five were seen as high order skills.
 Funding for adult literacy has been increased from less than £1 million in 1997 to £10.677 million in 2001. The national development plan provides for an investment of £73.8 million to provide for an estimated 113,000 clients in the years 2000 to 2006. Local literacy referral networks have been established and are operated by the vocational education committees. vocational education committees link the adult literacy service with schools, FÁS, welfare, health and employment services, libraries, area partnerships, community groups and employer interests. They promote awareness and provide a structured mechanism for the identification of area needs and the referral of those in need to the service. A directory of adult literacy services has been published, family learning programmes and programmes for specific groups are being expanded. Joint initiatives with the FÁS community employment programme have been developed and workplace literacy programmes are being piloted. Nationally certified staff development programmes have been provided, a quality framework has been developed and an interdepartmental group has been examining how best the literacy service can cater for unemployed people. As a result of these initiatives, the number of people availing of the adult literacy services has increased from 5,000 to 17,150.
Following successful radio initiatives, a TV series, Read Write Now, consisting of 12 programmes in literacy awareness and tuition for adults, was broadcast last year. It was watched by an average of 155,000 people each week, peaking twice at 192,000. The series was supported by a free-phone help line operated by the national adult literacy agency and free learner-resource packs. Videos of the series are being distributed to libraries, literacy schemes, training centres and video outlets. A radio programme is currently under way featuring more intensive literacy and numeracy tuition. The development of a further TV series is being discussed.
Mr. Creed Mr. Creed
Mr. Creed: At least 800,000 people have quite profound literacy difficulties. The targets are significant and the funding has increased from a very low base but this is still a very poor response to a serious difficulty which hinders expansion and development in the economy as well as people's ability to participate in the work force. It is the other side of the coin of educational disadvantage and if pupils are from homes where there are very profound literacy difficulties it will be extremely difficult to maximise the return on the investment in the classroom to students. Will the Minister therefore consider significantly increasing the target audience for initiatives regarding literacy? The current level of 113,000 is missing the point completely. Targeting one eighth of the 800,000 target audience is inadequate.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I agree with the Deputy that it is a major challenge which requires a great deal of money. As the Deputy has admitted the funds  have been greatly increased and almost £74 million is being provided under the national development plan. There are many good initiatives there and further improvements in allocation will be a matter for the estimates in the autumn.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.
Dáil Éireann 537 Other Questions. Adult Education.