The Australian Council for Adult Literacy promotes adult literacy and numeracy policy and practice.

August 2020

In this issue

1. From The President

2. COVID restrictions are placing added pressure on literacy needs

Adult literacy in the spotlight

3. Adult Learners week

Free ALA webinar: Lifelong learning: transitions, changes and learning across working life

Free Adult Learners’ Week Zoom event: Digital Literacy Hosted by QCAL

International Literacy Day 2020 – Tuesday, September 8

4. ACAL online platform survey

5. PIACC update

6. Have you heard this?

Jack Beetson

7. Have you read this?

Foundation Level Workplace Training Programmes

8. From the archives

ACAL responds to the Language and Literacy Policy 1991

9. Profiling literacy and numeracy specialists

Simone Campbell

10. Getting politicians to listen on adult literacy and numeracy


1. From The President

Jo Medlin

As we continue to live with and around COVID, we are increasingly aware of the changing literacy demands of everyday life and work. Literacy for adults is what we do with literacy to engage in communication for social purposes. Literacy occurs in real life situations at home, in the community, online, and at work. The doing of literacy, what our community of adult literacy stakeholders calls literacy practices, is about more than just recognising words (decoding). It’s about using literacy skills and knowledge in different situations and contexts (multimodal literacy).

Awareness is growing in the general community that literacy needs change as society around us changes. Many people who had developed strategies to cope with the literacy demands on their lives now find themselves navigating new modes of literacy with new demands. Those who were struggling to cope in a world with supports that they had identified are now more disadvantaged as their support systems become harder to access. In addition to digital skills, adults need to understand how texts work and how to follow the signposts that help them unlock literacy tasks. We need the texts we encounter in everyday life to be well signposted: to use plain English; to use colour and font and graphics as tools that contribute to understanding the text; to have easily accessed supports; to present information in different ways; to help people engage.

Let’s not allow COVID to increase the gaps in society. If you see a text that doesn’t look easy to navigate say something. Many people who write information sheets and create forms just don’t know that most people aren’t as literate as they are. As a society we need to prevent literacy from being an agent of exclusion.

A typical month as ACAL president

Often people ask what ACAL does, so I thought I’d give you some examples in my report this month. We advocate for adults with literacy needs and for the adult literacy practitioner community. I am privileged to work alongside people who are passionate about adult literacy and numeracy: I am one of eleven committee members and my ten colleagues are just as active and busy! Activities as president during August included:

  • meeting with the Productivity Commission to outline what foundation skills are and why they are important to adults in Australia (thanks to the NSWALNC for their involvement and organisation)
  • attending the Reading Writing Hotline Steering Committee meeting
  • engaging in online discussions about FSK as the ACAL rep on the Education IRC
  • meeting with assessors to hear their questions about the new FSK training package
  • agreeing to consult with an RTO on the reaccreditation of their literacy courses
  • providing consultation and input to a production company around adult literacy
  • communicating with members and readers of the newsletter who have been in contact in response to the July edition
  • seeking LN experts willing to write for our newsletter LN specialist profile article
  • meeting with TCAL who are busily planning the 2021 national conference
  • communicating with ALA about Adult Learners Week
  • starting to prepare for the Arch Nelson Address (details of the topic and speaker will be announced soon)
  • and preparing articles for this newsletter edition that I hope you find interesting and informative.

Jo Medlin
ACAL President

2. COVID restrictions are placing added pressure on literacy needs

Literacy teachers across the country have been expressing their concern for students over the past few months. Some teachers and learners have had success with moving to online or distance delivery. However, for most teachers we have heard from there is growing concern that it has exacerbated the barriers literacy tasks in daily life present.

Anecdotally,  teachers have described their work in lockdown as more about welfare than learning. For example, in one provider on the NSW mid north coast, the teacher’s main focus during lockdown was contacting students by phone or email to check that they were OK, and that they were safe. There was a focus on mental health and learning to be resilient rather than on completing a course. There was also assistance provided for daily tasks such as dealing with the ATO and medical services.

For adults across our communities who have literacy levels that had just allowed them to cope, there is a strong possibility that the new demands of life without the usual support will make essential tasks inaccessible. Without the incidental support that teachers, libraries, community centres and face to face contacts such as friends, family and neighbours provide, everyday tasks become more problematic. Reading health information, filling in forms, participating in remote GP appointments, applying for jobs, working from home, online shopping, critically analysing online news, and other tasks many of us take for granted, now require new strategies for those who are not highly literate. What those strategies are is as yet unclear.

Adult literacy in the spotlight

Redaing Writing Hotline bannerVanessa Iles, Manager of the Reading Writing Hotline speaks with Fran Kelly from ABC RN and Ros Childs from ABCNews about difficulties faced by adults with low levels of literacy during COVID lockdown and why the Hotline has been receiving an increase in calls.

Radio interview

TV ABC National News 

Adult Learners Week 2020

3. Adult Learners week

Adult Learners Week is a UNESCO initiative supported in Australia by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment and coordinated by Adult Learning Australia. Adult Learners Week runs from 1–8 September and incorporates International Literacy Day, which is celebrated annually on September 8.

To find out how you can participate in Adult Learners week check the website.

What will you be doing for adult learners week? Share your stories with us on Facebook.

Free ALA webinar: Lifelong learning: transitions, changes and learning across working life

Presenter: Stephen Billett

When: Wednesday 26th August @ 1pm AEST

Details and register

Free Adult Learners’ Week Zoom event: Digital Literacy , 7 pm, Tuesday, 8 September Hosted by QCAL

QCALPresented by Dr Anitza Genere, who has over 20 years of experience in the VET sector, this session will provide an overview of some of the key activities occurring nationally in the Vocational and Training (VET) sector with regards to digital literacy. These include key government publications (e.g., the Joyce review and the update of the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF)). The key question explored, from the VET perspective, is: ‘What is digital literacy?’

Register at QCAL

International Literacy Day 2020 – Tuesday, September 8

UN classroomFor International Literacy Day 2020, ACAL will be advocating for adult literacy. ACAL will undertake a letter writing drive asking members to write emails (and follow with hard copy letters) to their local state MPs to detail the need for LN provision and to their local federal members to ask for scholarships for teachers and national funded literacy strategy. To participate, look out for more details soon and on our website and Facebook page.

In 1966 UNESCO launched September 8 as International Literacy Day. Literacy and the need for literate societies is a key component of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A target of the UN’s fourth sustainable development goal is ensuring all young people achieve literacy and numeracy and that adults, who lack these skills are given the opportunity to acquire them. The UN note that around  750 million adults – two thirds of them women – remained illiterate in 2016. Half of the global illiterate population lives in South Asia, and a quarter live in sub-Saharan Africa. We know that Australia also has a proportion of adults with low literacy. 

The concerns of the UN about the impact of covid19 on adult literacy reflect the concerns voiced by ACAL in this and previous newsletters. We encourage you to visit the International Literacy Day website to access their information. The UN explains the issue facing adult literacy learners across the globe at

From the UN:

International Literacy Day 2020 focuses on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies… The recent Covid-19 crisis has been a stark reminder of the existing gap between policy discourse and reality: a gap that already existed in the pre-COVID-19 era and negatively affects the learning of youth and adults, who have no or low literacy skills, and therefore, tend to face multiple disadvantages. During COVID-19, in many countries, adult literacy programmes were absent in the initial education response plans, so most adult literacy programmes that did exist were suspended, with just a few courses continuing virtually, through TV and radio, or in open air spaces.  What is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on youth and adult literacy educators and teaching and learning? What are the lessons learnt? How can we effectively position youth and adult literacy learning in global and national responses and in strategies for the recovery and resilience-building phase? By exploring these questions, International Literacy Day 2020 provides an opportunity to reflect on and discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond. The Day will also give an opportunity to analyse the role of educators, as well as formulate effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning.

4. ACAL online platform survey

Figure with question markMany of you taught using an online platform earlier this year (or possibly still are!) when you worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Did you use any of these?

  • Zombie
  • ThingaMeBob
  • Whatsamacallit
  • Wheeeebex
  • Microhardy
  • GooglyMeat

Probably not.

But ACAL is interested to learn what platform you used and how it went. From the survey findings, we intend to compose and make available a Conversation Starter on the ACAL website.

Please complete the survey before Monday August 31. Thank you.

Thanks to those who have completed it!

Take the survey

5. PIAAC update

We have received an update from the acting Assistants Director  of Education and Training Director of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Due to the restrictions on face to face interviews caused by COVID-19 across the world, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) has been put on hold. At this stage it is expected to be delayed for 12 months. More information will be released as plans are updated.

6. Have you heard this?

Jack BeetsonJack Beetson is an influential advocate for increasing adult literacy in Aboriginal communities. Jack has so many achievements and titles that it’s difficult to know how to refer to him! For this segment, with the focus on adult literacy, we will use his title Executive Director of the Literacy for Life Foundation. You can read more about Jack and his influential work, including being recognised as United Nations ‘Unsung Hero of Peace’ for his work on Reconciliation.

Unsung Hero of Peace

In this interview on the ABC radio program ‘Speaking out’, Jack Beetson,  Executive Director of the Literacy for Life Foundation, talks to Larissa Behrendt about the links between adult literacy and health. Citing a statistic that may surprise some, but sadly not those of us engaged in adult literacy advocacy, Jack explains that in one Aboriginal community where Literacy for Life ran their campaign, 70% of Aboriginal people aged over 15 years, had low literacy.

The interview goes for almost an hour and is engaging and informative. In the first part of the interview, Jack talks about his background and influences in his life. He clearly describes the social isolation Aboriginal peoples have experienced in the past 230 years and provides examples of being excluded from events and activities. He also talks about Tranby: its history and legacy. If you’re unfamiliar with Tranby you’ll find this very interesting.

At 25:30min into the interview Jack focuses on the link between adult literacy and health, adult literacy and inter-generational quality of life, and adult literacy and community participation (eg on Land Councils). He describes the impact of covid19 restrictions and why literacy is even more important in these times. Jack predicts that adult literacy will be crucial to community success during post covid recovery.

Listen to the interview.

7. Have you read this?

Foundation Level Workplace Training Programmes

by Anne Alkema published in Journal of Learning for Development, 7(2), pp. 218-232, 2020.

Abstract: This paper outlines the scale of the adult literacy and numeracy issue in New Zealand and describes a policy intervention designed to upskill employees in Workplaces to help resolve the issue for them. This is the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WLN) Fund, which enables around 7000 employees a year to complete a 25 to 80 hour learning programme, usually in their workplace and during work time. The paper also describes what happens in workplaces while programmes are underway and the short-term wellbeing, social, and economic outcomes that occur for individual employees.

In this context, literacy and numeracy relates to the way in which adults use skills that involve reading, writing, speaking, listening, and mathematics in everyday life. It also includes digital skills in relation to how adults engage and interact with information and communication technologies (ICT). These skills are those that individuals need for learning, life, and work in the 21st century.

Read the article

1991 policy8. From the archives

ACAL responds to the Language and Literacy Policy 1991

ACAL was given a set of archive materials from Peter Waterhouse that are relevant to the field of adult literacy. We hope our new archive section will give you an understanding (or reminder) of where we came from, some ideas to cling to, a few lessons learned, and perhaps insight into mistakes not to repeat. Other sources of historical information include VOCEDplus at NCVER and the ACAL/adult literacy archive held at the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

This month we bring you a flyer created by ACAL in response to the language and literacy policy of 1991.

See the actual archive document

9. Profiling literacy and numeracy specialists

In this section we profile LN specialists to demonstrate the range of qualifications and experience that lead to expertise in the field. We encourage all readers to refer to the National Framework as a reminder that the TAELLN411 unit is an awareness unit and is at the start of a journey in LN teaching. For those wishing to extend from awareness to developing teaching skills we encourage shadowing, mentoring and training –  several RTOs  are currently delivering the TAE80113 Graduate Diploma in LLN Practice and information can be found at

Simone Campbell

Simone CampbellPart Time Teacher, Career Pathways, Aboriginal Languages & Employability Skills

‘In my first year of teaching, I worked with a mature-aged woman who wore a beautiful gold watch. When doing time problems in a numeracy lesson, I asked her to look at her watch to see if she could work out the answer. She told me she couldn’t read the watch and only wore it because it was a gift to her. From this moment forward, I have never assumed anything! Just because someone wears a watch, I don’t assume they know how to read it!’

See more about Simone’s journey in adult education.

Spark banner10. Getting politicians to listen on adult literacy and numeracy:

Who to talk to before you go to the Minister 

COVID-19 has placed the attention of governments firmly back into the communities from which our which politicians come. What this means is there is a rare opportunity to show political decisions makers (Minsters, Premiers, the Prime Minister) what needs there are to address, and share with them the solutions which the social sector know will work.

But before you go to the Minister, have you checked in with their mates? You know, those other politicians: MPs/MLAs, Senators/MLCs? Maybe it’s been a while, or it’s your first time, but you absolutely must get those politicians on-side before you go to those higher up the food chain (especially backbenchers in the party of government, wherever you may be).

Your local MP is a good starting point – send them a letter and let them know what you’re passionate about and the importance of the work you do in the adult LAN space. Also think about who else you serve or support – do you know which electorate they’re in? By collecting postcode data, you can map these people to electorates and then reach out to those MPs to say “hey! We’re doing good work over here, and we’ve been working to support your constituents – 10/75/500/1000 of them, to be precise!”

Whatever you do, make sure you have got the attention and support of a few government MPs before you go to the Minister. Get them to write on your behalf, and even organise a meeting with the Minister or their advisor. It makes a difference; your message will be louder and it will give you the opportunity to build genuine and long-term relationships with politicians who can ultimately help you make big gains in the adult literacy and numeracy space.

Check out our whitepaper, “Beyond Government Relations”, for more info on how to make an impact through better advocacy with government. Or drop Angus Crowther, Senior Strategic Advisor at Spark Strategy, an email at  to find a time for a COVID-appropriate check in and catch up.


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Contact ACAL

GPO Box 2283 Canberra ACT 2601