International Literacy Day 2020

Today is International Literacy Day
Today in Australia literacy is an issue for adults across all age groups, from early school leavers to seniors and the elderly. Literacy needs are not confined to particular demographics and it is important to understand that many adults born in Australia and schooled in Australia have low literacy – it is not an issue confined to migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds at all. Australians with literacy needs are often successfully engaged in their family, community, and work life – it’s a myth that all adults with low literacy are disengaged and unemployed. However, we do know that literacy can be a barrier to many activities, such as gaining employment, changing employment, civil participation, understanding health and financial information, and helping children develop literacy.

Currently we don’t have much reliable statistical information, but we do know:

  • The Reading Writing Hotline receives over 4000 calls per year. This is significant when you consider how difficult it must be to make that call and tell a stranger that you need help with reading and writing: 4000 is probably the tip of the iceberg.
  • Approx. 70% of callers to the Reading Writing Hotline are from an English-speaking background.
  • The 2012 PIAAC suggested that in Australia, around three million working-age adults – one in five – currently have low basic skills (website).
  • In Tasmania, the 26ten program reports that 48% of Tasmanians do not have the literacy and numeracy skills they need for life in a technologically-rich world.
  • The SEE Program is offered across Australia and in the last evaluation (dated on the website as 2016) it was noted that 33% of job seekers identified with LLN needs.
  • The Literacy for Life Program note that more than 40% of Aboriginal adults have low literacy.

History of International Literacy Day
In 1966 UNESCO set the 8th September as International Literacy Day to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies.

Internationally in 2020
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 theme highlights literacy learning in a lifelong learning perspective. 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. Read more here

A bit of Australian history
Until the 1970s, the majority of the population left the schooling system early and many occupations did not require highly literate or numerate employees. Some remediation of literacy problems for adults occurred in the armed forces, where literacy problems had been recognised during the Second World War but was not common in other education sectors. Scholars who have traced the history of literacy and numeracy in Australia claim that the adult literacy and numeracy movement emerged in the 1970s in response to movements to expand access to education and in the belief that social power and literacy were interdependent. In Australia at that time one of the champions of adult literacy was the Australian Association of Adult Community Education, which established a working party to focus on adult literacy. This led to the formation of a national literacy and numeracy professional body to disseminate information and to provide voluntary networking opportunities — the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL), established in 1977. Adult literacy entered the mainstream education system in Australia in 1974, when the Kangan report proposed that the TAFE system include literacy as part of its offerings in general education.

How are you celebrating International Literacy Day?
Jump onto our FaceBook page and tell us how you’re marking the day or email us with your International Literacy Day story.

We can all raise awareness – help us spread the word
It would be great if more decision-makers understood that adult literacy is important in every aspect of our lives and is not just something that belongs in the ‘work and skills’ portfolio (and should therefore be handballed to Senator Cash!).
Contact your local Federal Minister to let them know this is an issue in their local area (list and contact information here). You could…

  • Introduce yourself as a person concerned with adult literacy and numeracy
  • Provide some local information if you have it eg a local class you teach or manage – so the member realises this is a real issue in their area
  • Provide some stats about adult literacy in Australia (see above)
  • Ask the member to advocate for adult literacy learners in their local area.

If you teach, use our information sheet ‘How to Write to Your MP’ to encourage your students to contact their Federal member.

Let us know who you contact and if you get a response:

Jo Medlin
ACAL President