Brian O’Donnell, a student at Kilkenny and Carlow ETB, Galina Moraru, a student at Kildare and Wicklow ETB, Lisa Banks, a student at Kilkenny and Carlow ETB, Michael Duffy, ETB student
The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is launching ‘Take the First Step’, a national public information campaign to encourage those who have difficulties with numeracy and literacy to contact NALA or their local ETB to get the help they need to improve their skills.
The campaign is joint initiative between the Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), SOLAS (the Further Education and Training Authority) and NALA. The opportunity is free and open to all, with participants able to choose what, where and when they want to learn. The campaign was launched at a conference being held by NALA on Friday to mark the UNESCO International Literacy Day (8th September) which is being celebrated, under the theme of ‘Literacy Changes Lives’ this year.
Research show that one in six (550,000) Irish adults find reading and understanding everyday texts difficult: for example, reading a leaflet, bus timetable or medicine instructions. Many organisations are unaware of how widespread low literacy levels are in Ireland. This affects how they communicate - and fail to communicate - with the people they need to reach. This lack of awareness may mean that organisations aren’t reaching, and are often excluding, the very people who need the information, wasting time and money. The conference will show that organisations that are aware of literacy issues are more effective in meeting the needs of those who use their service. It will also show how low literacy and numeracy levels in Ireland impact individuals, society and the economy – a number of speakers will discuss responsibilities, solutions and best practice.
Speaking ahead of the conference, keynote speaker Jason Vit, Head of Literacy Hubs at National Literacy Trust, UK, said: “Low literacy levels have a series of effects on individuals, be it on their employment, health or confidence. We see that the poorest areas often have the greatest literacy challenges. Literacy is not about schools, and it is not about libraries. It is about an entire community infrastructure. We believe that by taking coordinated action at a local level to drive up literacy levels, we can support increased educational attainment and employability skills, and improve health outcomes and social capital.”
Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS, said: “Literacy, numeracy and digital skills are fundamental to personal fulfilment, active citizenship, social cohesion and employability. Evidence supports the positive impact of such skills for individuals, communities and the national economy. SOLAS is proud to be part of the collective effort to enhance literacy, numeracy and digital skills in Ireland. The “Take the First Step” campaign has been funded by SOLAS for the past four years, and has been a key action in the implementation of the Further Education and Training Strategy over the past five years. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about Ireland’s skills needs and to ensure that our population are equipped to progress at pace with our changing environment. Along with programmes such as Skills for Work and Skills to Advance, the campaign forms part of SOLAS’s wider strategic approach to Further Education and Training.”
Dr Inez Bailey, CEO, National Adult Literacy Agency said: “This year’s conference is based around the life changing impact of literacy. The students that feature in the new Take the first step campaign this year are a testament to the positive impact of returning to education. Literacy is a valued right and tasks such as filling in a form, reading health information or accessing everyday services online should be attainable for every member of society. Taking the first step and getting in touch via our Freephone 1800 20 20 65 or www.takethefirststep.ie can help bring about real, lasting change for both individuals and society as a whole.”
“Taking the ‘first step’ can be one of the most difficult parts of returning to education for adults” said Nessa White, Secretary General, Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) “and we are proud to partner with SOLAS and NALA on the National Awareness Campaign ‘Take the First Step’ encouraging adults to return to education and improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills. Education and Training Board programmes are tailored to the needs of learners, Nessa continued, and have the potential to change the lives of individuals, families, communities and society.”
Fiona Maloney Director of ETBI Further Education Support Services said “Recognising adults may need to juggle family and work commitments Education and Training Boards offer flexible part-time day and evening courses. Experienced staff in Adult Guidance and Literacy Services are on hand to offer advice and discuss suitable programme options in a safe environment. I would encourage people to pick up the phone or call into their local Education and Training Board as the first step in transforming their lives”.
The ‘Take the First Step’ campaign encourages adults who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to contact a Freephone support line 1800 20 20 65 or free text LEARN to 50050 or contact your local Education and Training Board to get the help they need. Once they make contact the National Adult Literacy Agency will put them in contact with their local ETB Adult Education Centre or tell them about other free services that will meet their needs. Currently in Ireland there are about 63,000 adults attending literacy courses in ETB adult education centres nationwide.