Industry and unions urged to take action on illiteracy


Industry must help to combat high levels of illiteracy which have made Ireland the second-poorest state in the industrialised world, the National Adult Literacy Agency said yesterday.

The agency was commenting on the United Nations Human Development Report, which ranks Ireland 16th out of 17 western countries in terms of "human poverty". Britain is just ahead, and the United States is at the bottom of the list.

Ireland's high "functional illiteracy" rate, at 23 per cent of the population, is largely responsible for its poor showing, a spokeswoman for the association said.

The situation is roughly similar to that reported in 1997 by the OECD, which found that 25 per cent of the population was functionally illiterate and had difficulty with such tasks as reading instructions, forms or bills.

The Minister of State for Education and Science, Mr Willy O'Dea, yesterday promised further action to combat illiteracy. He said his Department was asking RTE to make one of its digital channels available for literacy programmes.

Extra funding for literacy projects would be announced shortly. He expects to publish a White Paper on adult education - the Green Paper made literacy a top priority - by the end of the year.

Ms Inez Bailey of the literacy association said yesterday that after the OECD report in 1997, Mr O'Dea had "got the ball rolling" and more than doubled annual spending on literacy services. The number of people on literacy courses has doubled to 10,000 since 1995, but she complained they were getting only two hours' tuition a week. She said the association brought an expert from Australia to train 12 volunteers in workplace literacy schemes - but so far no workplace had made use of their skills. Industry and the trade unions would have to get involved in combating illiteracy and innumeracy in the workplace. The trade unions and industry should ensure that workplace literacy programmes were included in whatever agreement followed Partnership 2000, she said.

Mr O'Dea said he was considering whether an incentive might be necessary to encourage industry to get involved in workplace literacy programmes.

The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Mr Ahern, said social inclusion "must be at the top of the agenda for the next social partnership agreement".