One in four adults are unable to read basic data

ONE out of every four Irish adults are unable to read drug prescriptions, menus or work documents, with more than 10,000 people contacting support groups with their concerns since the start of 2008.

Speaking after the Irish launch of The Big Read international campaign — which highlighted how a massive 774 million people worldwide, including 75 million children, are trapped in a lifetime of poverty because they cannot read or write — campaigners warned that thousands of people in this country suffer from the same crisis.

According to National Adult Literacy Association (NALA) spokesperson Claire McNally, since a joint campaign by the group and An Post at the start of last year, more than 10,000 adults nationwide have contacted the NALA help line in an attempt to overcome their difficulties.

Among the main concerns raised by callers include an inability to read medicine prescriptions, leading to potentially dangerous consequences; being unable to understand menus when eating at restaurants; and fears that reading and writing difficulties will prevent any significant progress in their careers.

While an estimated €30m has been pumped into child and adult literacy programmes by Government in recent years, no in-depth research into illiteracy levels has taken place in Ireland since a 1997 OECD survey found one out of every four adults can be categorised as having serious writing or reading difficulties.

Stating there is no evidence that this figure has fallen in the subsequent 12 years, the NALA has urged further funding to be made available in an attempt to overcome the problem.

“Since the An Post campaign and since our RTÉ TV series Written Off, we’ve had 10,000 calls from members of the public who have a reading or writing issue,” said Ms McNally. “They are people of every age group, its not just an old age issue even though that’s how it’s perceived because free second level education didn’t come in until the 1960s. Very often they call for personal reasons, for example they want to be able to read to their kids or grandkids, but very often its concerns about not wanting to be held back anymore or not being able to read menus or prescriptions.

“There has been Government investment, 45,000 adults are availing of one-to-one or group tuition, but it’s still a problem here because people are missing out on the first chance when they are in school,” she said.

The NALA comments came after author Roddy Doyle joined hundreds of people in other countries by reading from The Big Book as part of the illiteracy international awareness campaign. The Big Read is a compilation of stories from global figures such as Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and American and Brazilian authors Alice Walker and Paulo Coelho.

As part of the campaign, the book will be read by millions of people around the world, who will then write their name at the back of the work to demand action to be taken against the worldwide illiteracy crisis.

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