Reading, writing and arithmetic are the traditional objectives of schooling and yet the need for greater literacy and numeracy skills in adults is an ever growing problem, say literacy advocacy groups.
Five national organisations, including Literacy Aotearoa and education, industry, business and trade union groups, are calling for more support to improve workforce literacy and numeracy in New Zealand. They have released a workforce literacy call to action, Stepping Up to Better Working Lives.
“Research both internationally and within New Zealand has shown that people who have good literacy and numeracy skills are able to fully participate in in a modern society and high-skill economy,” says Literacy Aotearoa Te Tumuaki/Chief Executive Bronwyn Yates. “Yet a significant number of New Zealanders do not have sufficient skills to do so.”
“Today over a million working age people require greater literacy or numeracy skills in order for them to participate as fully as they want to in work, education and every-day life,” Ms Yates says. “This represents a massive group of the forgotten and the long-neglected, undermining the very foundations of a prosperous nation and a fair society. The issue of adult literacy skills development must be urgently and more comprehensively addressed.”
According to the most recent International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) adult numeracy skills in Aotearoa are, in general, higher than the OECD average. Yet the nation is still underperforming, sitting at 13 out of the 40 nations surveyed in. The gap in average literacy and numeracy skills between Maori adults and the total population narrowed between 1996 and 2014, as it did for Pasifika.
“That’s positive, but the gap is still substantial and not narrowing fast enough,” says Ms Yates. “In another 20 years we may be in a better position, but that would mean another generation of literacy lag.”
“The results of workforce literacy programmes are consistently positive. Higher performing, safer workplaces and more confident, competent workers,” Ms Yates says. “Stepping Up to Better Working Lives calls for increased government funding, greater awareness, collaboration and prioritisation of adult literacy needs.”
It is the experience of Literacy Aotearoa that people who seek to improve their literacy and numeracy become more engaged in their communities, are better equipped to assist their children with their education and have the confidence to undertake further education or seek employment opportunities.