Campaign aims to aid those with reading and maths difficulties

Nearly one in six aged 16-65 may be unable to read basic text, CSO study suggests

Jockey and horse trainer Johnny Murtagh and novelist Patricia Scanlan with National Adult Literacy Agency students Gerardine Murphy and Chris Carthy at the launch of takethefirststep.ie. The website hosts a campaign calling on those who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to get the help they need. Photograph: Conor Healy Photography

Jockey and horse trainer Johnny Murtagh and novelist Patricia Scanlan with National Adult Literacy Agency students Gerardine Murphy and Chris Carthy at the launch of takethefirststep.ie. The website hosts a campaign calling on those who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to get the help they need. Photograph: Conor Healy Photography

 

Writing a letter to her sister-in-law was an emotional achievement for Chris Carthy (53) from Sligo, who left school at 13 and who hid her literacy and numeracy difficulties until just five years ago.

Ms Carthy is one of four adult students who feature in a new campaign to encourage people to “take the first step” to get the help they need with reading, maths and technology.

The National Adult Literacy Agency (Nala) launched the campaign on Thursday to coincide with International Literacy Day.

Ms Carthy along with Tony Moloney (59) from Cork, Gerardine Murphy (50) from Meath and Eamon Delaney (38) from Kilkenny will feature in radio ads and videos on social media sharing their positive stories about returning to education.

All are early school-leavers who have struggled with literacy and numeracy difficulties throughout their lives.

Skill levels

In a recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills, the Central Statistics Office interviewed 6,000 people aged 16-65 in Ireland and assessed their literacy and numeracy skills.

Nearly one in six was at or below level 1, the lowest level on a five-level literacy scale. At this level a person may be unable to read basic text.

One in four Irish adults was at or below level 1 for numeracy, meaning they were unable to do a simple maths calculation such as adding up prices.

Nala said some people will have left school confident about their numeracy and reading skills but find that changes in their workplace and everyday life make their skills inadequate.

Ms Carthy said her literacy difficulties came to a head about five years ago when she faced additional form-filling in her work with people with disabilities. She was also concerned about health and safety issues when handling cleaning products when she could not read the labels.

She eventually took redundancy and saw an ad to encourage adults to return to education.

“The phone call wasn’t too bad, but walking in the first time and meeting my tutor was frightening.”

But she enjoyed learning and took on the extra challenge of learning maths last year. She will return to classes later this month.

“I’m looking forward to that. I’m not going to be afraid.”

She was delighted to be able to write her first letter to her sister-in-law Patricia. “Her son told me she was so happy.”

The campaign is supported by Education and Training Boards Ireland, Solas (the Further Education and Training Authority) and Nala. The opportunity to return to learning is free and open to all and participants may choose what, where and when they want to learn.

Nala chief executive Inez Bailey said: “Taking the first steps on any journey requires courage and commitment – and for those that have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology, the stigma attached can prove daunting and discouraging.”

“The aim of this campaign is to encourage people to take the first step and freephone 1800 202065 or text LEARN to 50050 to get the help they need. We want people to know they are not alone and there are lots of options to suit their needs.”

The campaign runs for two weeks and will finish at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Offaly.