Adult literacy guidelines ignored

The government has failed to implement three major recommendations on adult literacy contained in its white paper in 2000, and now they have been
re-recommended in an Oireachtas report.
By Emma Browne

Although the number of people in literacy programmes is greater than ever, tuition hours and tutors are falling every year and there are no up-to-date figures on literacy levels in Ireland. A recent Oireachtas committee report on adult literacy attempted to address some of the problems by making various recommendations, but many of these had already been recommended in the White Paper on Adult Education in 2000 and were never implemented.

In 1997, the OECD International Adult Literacy Survey report estimated that 500,000 adults in Ireland had low levels of literacy. Since then, the funding going into the area has increased massively, as have the numbers engaged in literacy schemes. In 1997, €850,000 was being spent on literacy; the national budget is now €25 million. Ten years ago, there were just 5,000 people involved in literacy schemes; now there are 35,000. However, this figure of 35,000 represents just 7 per cent of the population who have literacy problems.

In the White Paper in 2000, there were three recommendations that have never been implemented. The first was to carry out a national literacy survey in 2003, and regularly after that. It never happened. The second was to encourage more literacy tutors and to professionalise the sector. Out of 5,500 tutors in Ireland, 4,000 are volunteers. Tutor numbers are falling and this has meant that every year two hours of tuition per student per week is being lost.

The final recommendation was that a national adult learning council be set up. This has not been done. These recommendations have now been repeated in the Oireachtas Education and Science committee report, published in May 2006.

The Department of Education says that they are currently drafting proposals for a survey of adult literacy to take place. They have undertaken a review of the role and function of a national adult learning council and are considering this. They also are extending professionalisation to tutors as "resources become available". They said that under the social partnership agreement 2006-2015, an additional 7,000 extra places will be made available to adult literacy.