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Nz Adult Literacy Strategy Released

Hon Marian Hobbs
7 May 2001 Speech Notes

Embargoed against delivery

Launch of Adult Literacy Strategy, 5.30pm Monday May 7, Hon Trevor Mallard's office, Beehive 7.2


Low levels of adult literacy have two consequences for New Zealand:

1. The workforce, where the lack of being able to read, write and solve problems impedes upskilling.

2. A lack of confidence in the communication skills needed for happy, safe families and for participating in the knowledge society. For example how to comment on a district plan or be a school trustee.

The International Adult Literacy Survey in 1996 revealed large numbers of people in New Zealand whose poor literacy severely restricts their choices in life and work.

New Zealand ranked above average in the survey for prose literacy but was well below average for the 20 participating countries in two of the three literacy domains examined by the survey. In prose literacy only four countries had a mean proficiency level higher than New Zealand’s.

But, New Zealand’s mean proficiency in document literacy measured significantly better than only 6 of the 20 participating countries and in quantitative literacy better than only 5 countries.

History of New Zealand’s adult literacy movement

The modern adult literacy movement in New Zealand began in the early 1970s.

In 1974, the Hawkes Bay New Reader’s Programme began when a local minister’s wife, Rosalie Somerville, began teaching several parishioners who had trouble with reading. She persuaded Massey University Extension Department to run two training courses, resulting in 17 trained literacy tutors in Hawkes Bay. The National Council of Adult Education contributed $250 for books.

In 1975, in Auckland the Logan Campbell Trust gave an Auckland University professor, Marie Clay, a $2,000 grant to start an adult literacy programme in Auckland. The following year, with the help of a grant from the Department of Education and UNESCO, National Council of Adult Education ran the first national seminar on literacy, Assisting Adults with Reading Problems, in Levin.

The New Zealand Workers’ Education Associations were also involved in raising the profile of adult literacy and in delivering adult literacy programmes from the mid 1970’s. John Tamihere's Waipereira Trust – driver licences.

In 1979, an Adult Reading Advisory Committee survey for the National Council of Adult Education found:
- a total of 59 voluntary literacy programmes throughout NZ, which had helped a total of 2,078 students
- over half the students were under age 25
- 92 percent of the students were English-speaking
- 217 people were on waiting lists to get into the programmes.

In 1982 the Adult Reading and Learning Assistance Federation was registered as an Incorporated Society and received small grants from the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Education. Through the 1980’s funding increased reaching $400,000 from Education annually by 1988. Funds were used to create a network of paid co-ordinators and to move towards bi-cultural development within programmes.

In 1990, the Adult Reading and Learning Assistance Federation created a national workplace literacy project, Workbase, which eventually split off from ARLA in 1996 to become an independent not-for-profit organisation.

The history of these early struggles of the adult literacy movement in New Zealand to establish a network of learning opportunities for adult learners is a proud one. I wish to acknowledge the contributions made by key organisations and individuals to adult literacy provision in the past. Some of them are represented here this evening.

A new approach needed

Despite the committed effort of these predominantly volunteer groups over the past 25 years or more, however, poor levels of adult literacy remain a serious issue. When elected in 1999, the new Labour Alliance coalition Government recognised the need for a change to adult literacy. Action to improve adult literacy in New Zealand was signalled in the pre-election policy statements on employment, and on adult education and community learning.

The new Government created an Associate Minister of Education (Adult and Community Education). Among the responsibilities of this portfolio was the development of an adult literacy strategy.

I wish to acknowledge here the role played by my predecessor Lianne Dalziel. She had responsibility for the adult literacy strategy until a month ago and guided its development through its early months, built relationships with sector organisations, in Budget 2000 achieved new funding for adult literacy which she announced at the National Literacy Hui last November, and took the final draft of the Strategy to Cabinet just a few short weeks ago in the middle of March.

The Adult Literacy Strategy

The launch of this Strategy signals a more hands-on approach from Government—but working with those in the movement who have so much experience and expertise.
Government through the Ministry of Education, will have a clearer leadership role providing overall direction and strategic planning. The Ministry will co-ordinate the introduction of standards and best practice models to underpin new quality assurance systems. Shortly the Ministry will be appointing an Adult Literacy Chief Adviser.
This strategy will provide a comprehensive, long-term approach to adult literacy. This is especially true when building the capacity and capability of the sector, poorly resourced in the past. The International Adult Literacy Survey told us the need is much too large for the current range of providers to meet.
We must have a sustained long-term strategy to increase the scale and improve the quality of what's required. To measure improvements we need many more adult learners in effective, high quality literacy programmes.
The strategy is underpinned by four principles:
- rapid gains for learners,
- programmes to match learners' needs
- best practice, good evaluation and research to inform programme development
- teaching that meets the needs of the wide diversity of learners.
The long-term approach has three key goals:
- increasing opportunities for adult literacy learning;
- developing the capability of adult literacy providers to deliver high quality education; and
- improving quality systems to ensure that adult literacy teaching programmes in New Zealand are world class.
In the long run, all New Zealanders should enjoy a level of literacy that enables them to participate fully in all aspects of life, including work, family and the community, and to have the opportunity to achieve literacy in English and Te Reo Maori.
Concentration in the first two or three years will be on building the quality systems required, and investing in building the capability of the sector to improve the overall quality of provision as quickly as possible.
Benefits of good literacy
The International Adult Literacy Strategy concludes that increasing literacy skills is related to increased employability, reduced unemployment probabilities, increased earnings, and increasing the probability of being in white collar high skilled occupations. Research on the New Zealand IALS data by the Department of Labour confirms this.
There are also substantial non-employment benefits related to good literacy skills. Associations have been noted between higher levels of literacy and greater social cohesion, higher political participation of women, increased community and voluntary activity, improved health, higher levels of home ownership, and better education outcomes for children of parents with good literacy.

Excellent results can come through workplace initiatives. Investing in generic literacy skills for employees provides a return to the worker, with gains in skill and income and improved stability of employment. The employer gets a return to the in improved productivity, improved workplace safety through better understanding of safety instructions, and lower staff turnover.
The role of community organisations will be crucial in responding through community-based programmes to those who do not participate in more formal learning. Flexible community-based learning is well placed for those who have transport difficulties, or whose wide ranging family responsibilities make scheduling learning hours difficult. Partnerships with Maori, Pacific peoples, and other ethnicities from non-English speaking backgrounds will be essential to develop innovative and appropriate ways of learning targeted to these high need groups.

Thank you to everyone who has been involved in developing this Strategy and I look forward seeing the results.


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