One-in-six Irish adults are struggling with reading, and one quarter are having difficulties with maths, a new report has revealed.
In an effort to improve this, the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is to launch a new strategy today outlining its recommendations on improving literacy, numeracy, and digital inequalities amongst the adult population.
Strong skills in these areas have been proven to be essential during the pandemic as the public sought to understand ongoing public health messaging, access services online, and identify 'fake news'.
Low literacy levels directly relate to poverty and misinformation, while higher literacy allows people to engage with public institutions, to understand and act on new information and technology, and to seek better employment opportunities.
In Ireland, 18% of the adult population is at or below level one on a five-level literacy scale. One in four are at or below level one for numeracy, and 55% of the adult population has low digital skills.
These mean, respectively, that they may struggle with reading text, doing simple maths, or searching for and understanding information online.
Traditionally marginalised groups also may be disproportionately affected, including Irish Travellers, low-income households, lone parents, migrants, and asylum seekers.
NALA proposes a new strategy for the next 10 years to support adults, and prioritise those who are furthest behind.
Its strategy, ‘Literacy for Life’, is promising a whole-of-Government approach — there are nine Government departments operating multiple strategies that concern adult literacy, numeracy, and digital skills.
However, there is no overall co-ordination and aligning of approaches to meet the scale of the problem, according to NALA.
"Other European countries, such as the Netherlands, that are successfully addressing the skills divide, have taken a more holistic and cross-departmental approach which NALA believes would be very achievable to implement in Ireland," said a spokesperson.
The strategy also recommends a monitoring framework and new outcomes for the impact of such skills.