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Our hidden problem is a lot worse than we thought

September 15th

Our hidden problem is a lot worse than we thought

One in four of us lack the literacy skills we need…..on a global scale we rate poorly, very poorly.

Only 54% of adults aged 16-65 have a level of English literacy needed to meet the demands of everyday life and work. NZ Government annual Social Report, August, 2004

“Almost half of all unemployed New Zealanders are at the lowest level of literacy.” More Than Words; The NZ Adult Literacy Strategy Office of the Minister of Education, May 2001, Trevor Mallard and Marion Hobbs, 2001.

A 2001 survey revealed that the reading skills of New Zealand 9-year-olds were the second worst among English-speaking countries. NZ Herald, 10.9.2002

“Poor literacy is strongly correlated with a greater likelihood of unemployment, lower pay when in work, poor health, less likelihood of owning a home, and poorer basic skills for children living with adults with poor literacy.” More Than Words; the NZ Adult Literacy Strategy Office of the Minister of Education, May 2001, Trevor Mallard and Marion Hobbs, 2001.

For hundreds of thousands of us having to read a bus timetable, write a cheque, read medicine labels or help our kids with their homework can be anxiety-inducing, daunting and impossible tasks.

Three leading providers in the literacy sector agree that it is essential to raise public awareness of literacy needs and to break down the stigma and secrecy surrounding the issue, We simply need to start talking about it.

The Warehouse started this ‘conversation’ by raising the extraordinary sum of $425,000 over 48 hours to support a new collaborative initiative it has created, called The Literacy Network.

The three partner agencies in the initiative collectively cover the life span from pre-school to the elderly. HIPPY (Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters) targets educationally-at-risk young families with pre-schoolers, with its in-home literacy programme. Books in Homes sends 80,000 school-aged children home with at least five free books of their choice every year. And Literacy Aotearoa is the largest literacy provider in the country, targeting family groups and adults.

“The Literacy Network as an initiative is, in itself, a first for New Zealand - a social innovation whereby a business has formed collaboration across a sector by linking the key providers,” says Jude Mannion, CEO of The Robin Hood Foundation.

“Recent research conducted by A C Nielsen reveals 94% of New Zealanders think it is good for companies to support charities, 62% of New Zealanders have actually bought a product or service because of its association with a charity or worthy cause. It’s never been more important for companies to really think about how their support can make the most difference, which this initiative is a good example of” she said.

“By bringing together the various providers across the sector we hope to enable the literacy partners to together raise awareness of the issue and to inform people where they can access help,” says Phil Jamieson, Group Performance Improvement Manager, The Warehouse.

Globally, there are strong correlations between populations with good literacy skills and strong economies.

“Lack of literacy can be a serious barrier towards getting on in life. It can prevent people from becoming trained, developed and contributing as fully as they can do to society. The personal toll can also be huge, with lack of self esteem and confidence being common,” said Phil Jamieson.


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