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Adult Literacy ‘Shame’ Needs National Plan In Australia

A national plan for adults is needed as learning at school is no longer enough, parliament told.

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia risks being left behind without a national plan on reading, writing, and numeracy for adults. Shame and embarrassment are both barriers, and people need to be reassured they are not alone, adult educators said to the federal parliament’s employment, education, and training committee on July 12.

“This is invisible as a national issue for people who have a literacy issue,” said Ros Bauer, board member of Adult Learning Australia. “It’s not invisible for practitioners.”

Adult Learning Australia is the largest national peak body for adult and community education. It is a not-for-profit entity that has been in operation for 60 years, with both organizational and individual members in all states and territories who reflect the diversity of adult and community education.

The rise of technology is another challenge. The federal parliament’s employment, education and training committee heard people who are adequate on reading and writing often nosedive in performance when numeracy is added.

Farmers are coming forward to get extra help dealing with toxic chemicals, while many workers and others need help using technology. The states may be the right place to deliver programs, but the federal government needs to look across the workforce and community to anticipate needs.

People who are adequate on reading and writing often nosedive in performance when numeracy is added, the federal parliament’s employment, education and training committee heard. (Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels)

Language and literacy education expert Joseph Lo Bianco called for coordination, standard-setting, and innovation from the Commonwealth.

“Adult literacy is no longer a welfare activity by good-hearted people,” said Bianco. He said Australia was facing a historic moment.

Lo Bianco is a professor of Language and Literacy Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, and serves as Past President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

“We have to keep in mind artificial intelligence which, combined with cyber systems, is going to require much higher levels of comprehension and functioning than we’ve ever had.”

Rapid change means learning on the job is becoming too risky, from farming to healthcare, because of the need to handle more sophisticated technology and procedures.

Rapid change means learning on the job is becoming too risky, from farming to healthcare, because of the need to handle more sophisticated technology and procedures. (Scott Graham/Unsplash)

Skills and knowledge may also become harder to transfer to another industry, the committee heard.

As per reports, some 12.6 percent of adults in Australia attain only Level 1 or below in literacy proficiency (a lower proportion than the average of 15.5 percent), and 20.1 percent attain Level 1 or below in numeracy (slightly higher than the average 19.0 percent).

It further suggests that adults (aged 16-65) in Australia show above-average proficiency in literacy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments than adults in the other countries participating in the survey, but only show average proficiency in numeracy.

(Edited by Amrita Das and Ritaban Misra)

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