800,000 people have literacy and numeracy problems

Approximately 800,000 people in Ireland have problems with basic tasks which involve reading and interpreting information, according to an international think tank.

Education Minister Richard Bruton; Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody; Dr Inez Bailey, CEO of Nala; and Dr Anthony Mann, OECD senior policy analyst.

Senior policy analyst with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Dr Anthony Mann, was a guest speaker at a conference organised by the National Adult Literacy Agency to encourage people to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

“Skills have become the global currency of dynamic 21st economies — driving economies and transforming lives,” he said.

“Far too many people of working age lack the basic skills in literacy and numeracy necessary to participate fully in work and society.”

Dr Mann said basic skills, such as English and maths, had become far more important because people needed to be more flexible and adaptable.

Those who were better at processing and communicating information were more likely to be employed, he said. People’s skill level also affected their health and their engagement in the community.

About 28% of people of working age in Ireland have problems with basic tasks involving reading and interpreting information — that equates to 800,000 people.

And about 25% of young people leaving formal education were not able to read the instructions on a box of medicine or work out how much fuel they had left in their car.

Dr Mann said Nala’s ‘Take the first step’ campaign was very important because a lot of people did not realise that they lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills.

“It’s quite easy to go through life not really understanding the extent of it. A lot of people do not do well in education. School is not a happy memory for lots of people,” he said.

The most recent OECD survey of adult skills showed that 550,000 Irish adults are at or below level one on a five-level literacy scale and 750,000 are below level one for numeracy. Over one million adults are at or below level one on using technology to complete tasks.

These low levels indicate that individuals may not be able to fill in an application form, add up a bill, search the web, vote or help children with homework.

The campaign features four students — all early school leavers — sharing their positive stories about returning to education to improve their literacy and numeracy.

Nala chief executive, Dr Inez Bailey, said people who returned to education often found that the hardest part was taking the first step.

“We want people to know that they are not alone and there are lots of options to suit their needs,” she said.

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