Literacy schemes depend on volunteers

LITERACY programmes aimed at helping the 500,000 adults in Ireland with reading and writing problems are almost entirely dependent on volunteers.

Because of crippling finances, most schemes can offer learners no more than two hours tuition a week.

As National Adult Literacy Awareness Week (NALAW) kicks off today, those working in the service say major funding is needed if literacy schemes are to reach more than the 3% with problems.

The Government committed €93.5 million to literacy between 2000 and 2006 under the National Development Plan. But NALA says that 88% of tuition is still undertaken by volunteers and only a tiny fraction of those with literacy problems are getting a service.

To mark the start of Literacy Awareness Week, NALA will launch a new English guide which aims to steer citizens through the maze of words that describe all facets of Irish society. ‘Active citizenship and literacy’ is the theme of this year’s Awareness Week.

Covering nearly 400 terms, the guide helps to create a greater understanding of the jargon relating to many aspects of citizenship, used on a daily basis.

Funding for literacy programmes is still falling far short of what is required, according to NALA spokes-person, Tommy Byrne.

“Well over 80% of our tutors are volunteers. This has not changed over the years. We made a submission last year to the All-Party Committee on Education regarding literacy. What we need if we are to be serious about literacy is paid leave for people in work. We need businesses to take on the idea of giving their staff paid time out to boost their literacy skills.

“We also need more workplace literacy programmes to provide support for parents working with their kids. These are crucial if we are to reach out to the vast majority who don’t come to us looking for help,” he said.

As well as helping adults with reading, writing and maths, NALA has helped with tutor training for adults and some counties have also put on computer and cookery courses.

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