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Dalziel Speech: National Literacy Hui

Hon Lianne Dalziel Speech Notes

Closing address to the National Literacy Hui
Victoria University

E nga iwi o te motu (kua huihui mai nei) tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you and to provide some thoughts in response to the issues that you have been considering over the last two days. It's a bit difficult to provide closing remarks when I haven't been at the hui but I have studied your programme and I want to assure you that the work that you are doing is very much in line with the direction that the Government is taking with respect to adult literacy.

I am particularly pleased to see that today's hui has involved a steering group made up of a significant number of organisations who have an important role to play with respect to the delivery of adult literacy programmes in a wide range of settings, community, home, institution and workplace.

I have attended a couple of the summits that were recently run by Workbase.

Their focus was "The Literacy Gap: Literacy for Economic Development and Enterprise” with the intention to encourage businesses to participate in workplace literacy initiatives. When I attended the first summit, in Manukau City, I have to confess that I turned up thinking I knew all I needed to know about workplace literacy programmes. Afterall I had the statistics.

I knew that the International Adult Literacy Survey had estimated that over a million New Zealanders were below the minimum level of literacy competence required to effectively meet the demands of everyday life and work.

I knew that 200,000 New Zealand adults function at the lowest level of literacy.

I knew that poor literacy was linked to unemployment.

I knew that certain occupations had much poorer levels of literacy than others, for example in manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

I knew that there was an issue for Maori, for Pacific peoples and for people born overseas from a non-English speaking background.

I knew that a report done in the UK found that adults with poor basic literacy skills were more likely to have children who also struggle with basic skills, less likely to own their own home, less likely to be in good health or participate actively in their community and be over-represented in prisons and among young offenders.

So I knew that we had to have an adult literacy strategy.

But what I didn’t know, was just how much benefit there is to business in offering workplace literacy programmes to their employees.

I could see the personal benefit and the family benefit, even the wider societal benefit, but it was hearing directly from the businesses themselves that led me to the realisation that workplace literacy programmes were good for business. They were an investment in people, an investment in workplace safety and health and an investment in productivity gains.

The IALS has told us that we need a comprehensive, long-term strategy to improve literacy levels. The fact that we were told that four years ago means that valuable time has been lost, but this should not deter us in our task.

We need to address the barriers; we need to establish and sustain a sense of direction and purpose, and we need to effectively resource and co-ordinate all the components of the system that are to deliver the results we need.

In addressing these barriers, we need to have focus on literacy in the home, in the community and in the workplace. I am therefore pleased to be able to announce today that the Government has made some decisions that will see an additional $2 million go into the adult literacy area this financial year.

I know that there will be those who may see this as insufficient to address the enormity of the statistics I have spoken about. However, there are serious issues with respect to capacity and to quality assurance that I believe must be addressed first and foremost.

This announcement, therefore, signals a direction, which can be developed further once the adult literacy strategy itself is in place.

Most of the $2 million ($1.5million) will be focussed on workplace literacy programmes, and the need to increase professional development training in the field and the development of quality assurance around the delivery of adult literacy programmes. $600,000 will be focussed on Maori and Pacific literacy programmes and $160,000 will be focussed on literacy initiatives for those whose first language is not English. In addition, $25,000 has been set aside to resource the hosting of this hui, and any initiatives that arise from it with respect to coordination within the sector.

I am advised that it wouldn't be appropriate to detail the specific recipients of the allocations, as they haven't been notified. However, I can say that there will be some funding for Skill New Zealand so that they can establish a fund which would be available to ITOs to fund industry training with a significant literacy component. I believe that this will produce a significant benefit and hopefully ITOs and employers will soon see that the benefits to individual enterprises and the industries are enormous and worth the investment.

The Government has identified the outputs it wants through this new funding and they are to:
 deliver workplace literacy programmes, particularly in smaller workplaces and in industries not covered by Industry Training Organisations
 deliver adult literacy programmes in partnership with Maori and Pacific communities, to improve the literacy of Maori and Pacific peoples and to improve their ability to take up further education and training opportunities
 explore new ways of delivering work-related literacy initiatives with a particular emphasis on smaller enterprises
 deliver quality professional development for vocational providers
 co-ordinate the development of quality standards for the workplace literacy sector, and scope the feasibility of the extension of these standards across the whole of adult literacy provision
 provide best practice advice, information and support for providers
 widely promote the need for, and benefits of, better workforce literacy and
 facilitate the development of a national adult literacy teaching qualification

As you can see, these goals put us on track for an effective adult literacy strategy. The barriers that we will need to continue addressing include:

 Changing the environment so that improving literacy is given priority across all sectors of post-school education and training
 Making it easier to access learning – that is we need to identify those windows of opportunity where we can hook people into literacy programmes; in workplaces; programmes for people who are unemployed and actively seeking work; community-based provision; family literacy programmes, where literacy learning for adults and children reinforce each other; and programmes that link to other learning at tertiary level
 Developing better qualifications for learners and teachers. We know that we need professional training and development for adult literacy teaching and a career path in adult literacy teaching that will attract a stable and ongoing workforce
 Monitoring and evaluating the strategy so that progress towards the goal of improving literacy can be measured effectively, and
 Address the stigma that is attached to poor literacy.

We need to make significant investment over the next generation to
 raise levels of literacy and current adult population who are "below the bar" of literacy adequacy
 Invest in the current working age population who have adequate literacy to ensure they do not slip behind as the skill level requirements increase with new technologies
 And improve the literacy of school leavers so those entering the workforce or adulthood are not in need of remedial literacy education

The challenge that I have as Minister, is to address the reality that there is limited capacity and scope of services available for adults needing literacy education.

There is a lack of clear pathways; for example, there are no national literacy unit standards, qualifications or achievement standards, and not enough co-ordination between providers operating in different sectors. But I am not daunted by that, as we are well on the way to reporting on an Adult Literacy Strategy, which will link into an all-encompassing NZ Literacy Strategy. I am confident that we can deliver the over-arching framework, but I am looking to you to provide the partnerships on the ground that will ensure that the next IALS shows that we have turned the corner.

I noted that one of the possible options that you were to look at today was the establishment of a national coalition of literacy stakeholders. If that is the modern jargon for cooperation between providers at different levels, then I'm all for it.

It is absolutely vital if we are to achieve the goal that you have set that by 2025 everyone in Aotearoa NZ is literate, then that requires a genuine commitment to a collaborative approach across government sectors and between the Government and non-government sectors.

I congratulate you all for the work that you are doing to explore the dimensions of adult literacy practice, to share information, and improve coordination within the sector. I hope that you have all managed to gain a lot from your participation in this national literacy hui, and I look forward to receiving details of any recommendations that you have to make to Government. It is the partnership between us that will ensure that the goals can be achieved.

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