Reading Writing Hotline report emphasises challenges in delivering adult literacy and foundation skills

The Reading Writing Hotline has released a major report that emphasises the challenges in delivering adult literacy and foundation skills.

Prepared by the Hotline and Social Equity Works, the report Insights from the Classroom: A Survey of Adult Literacy Providers, presents findings from 382 respondents, of which 32% worked for ACE providers and 48% for TAFEs.

Report findings:

  • Face to face individualised and learner centred delivery is what works best for literacy, numeracy and digital literacy (LND) learners.
  • Online courses can provide access for some. However, the digital divide and low LND skills make it a less appropriate delivery mode for most LND learners.
  • Face to face teaching and learning models have higher delivery costs than digital and online learning.
  • The Foundation Skills Training package is not meeting the needs of many LND learners.
  • High levels of disadvantage in the community, exacerbated by COVID-19, bushfires, floods and other natural disasters create significant barriers for these learners. This reinforces LND gaps where there is intergenerational poverty coupled with low levels of literacy.
  • Lack of qualified teachers and the level of qualifications required by teachers play a role in perpetuating poorer learner outcomes.
  • Workplace delivery is low and many currently working are unable to access LND courses outside of work hours.

Recommendations include proposals to increase:

  • community engagement programs to destigmatise literacy gaps experienced by adult learners;
  • community outreach and partnerships to deliver programs and courses in local, safe environments that minimise shame and embarrassment and promote access;
  • funding for First Nations English literacy, numeracy and digital literacy programs that are culturally appropriate & reflect diversity of models as identified by communities; and
  • improved infrastructure and technology support for learners.

The report notes that one in five (20%) Australians (including two in five – 40% – of Indigenous adults) have low literacy and/or numeracy skills. The report also highlights:

Online learning: “Provision of LN programs is best done face to face rather than online. The move to digital delivery tended to disproportionately disadvantage LN learners due to:

  • limited digital literacy skills;
  • lack of access to secure internet access;
  • print-based resources being preferable for adult LN learners;
  • lack of access to home computers; and
  • insufficient self-directed learning skills to manage online programs.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent natural disasters have exposed the extent of the literacy gaps for those people who require access to recovery support and disaster relief. Access to such relief involved filling in of forms, often available only online, exacerbating their difficulty.”

Employment services: “The relationship between LN and DL provision and employment services was described by some respondents as being problematic. These respondents reported ‘lack of referrals’ from employment providers, little or no incentives for employment providers to make LND referrals, a focus on employment-only outcomes and/or inappropriate referrals to high level courses and programs delivered by the same employment provider.”

Regional, rural and remote areas “are often ‘thin markets’ for education provision, particularly in outer regional and remote areas, where a low population density can make it unsustainable for providers to operate or provide a large suite of academic programs.”

Unmet community needs: “Calls to the Reading Writing Hotline often indicate there are many needs in communities not being met by current LND classes and offerings…. The unmet need most cited by respondents to this survey was the need for ‘individual and tailored literacy assistance’ (64%). The second most cited unmet need was for ‘wrap around supports to address barriers and enable participation’ (52%). This was followed by ‘help with form filling’ (49%) … ‘pathways into accredited courses’ (47%) and ‘lack of non-accredited courses delivered in community settings’ (43%).”

Workplace learning: “While a proportion of adults seeking LND learning are jobseekers, a significant proportion are also in the workforce but may be struggling to meet the LND requirements of their job. They may also be underemployed and seeking to increase their skills to increase their hours of employment or employment options.”

Promotion and advertising: “Respondents called for improved advertising and promotion that is targeted appropriately to adult learners in format and methods that would reach them including through community service providers and community forums,” libraries and social media.

The report forms part of a larger research project including libraries, community groups, industry and First Nations organisations, to be completed by July 2023.

CCA Comment

CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, comments:

“The findings of the Reading Writing Hotline report are profound and highly significant for Australian foundation skills funding and delivery – language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills. It is significant that almost one third of respondents to the Hotline report worked for not-for-profit community education providers and almost half for TAFE. This underlines the significance of NFP and TAFE delivery of LND – suggestions that the for-profit training sector should increase LND provision when ACE and TAFE providers are already under-resourced for their demand are deeply misguided and will ultimately rebound badly in skewing a system already under deep strain. The Hotline report strongly supports CCA’s long contention that community-based in-person adult literacy instruction will achieve the greatest outcomes for Australia – and that NFP ACE providers are best-suited to deliver that. Foundation skills delivery is core business for ACE providers.”

“This report comes at an opportune time. The new Commonwealth Minister, Brendan O’Connor, announced at the CCA Conference the establishment of a national Foundation Skills Advisory Group which will work with his Department and report by April 2023. The NSW Department of Education has commenced development of an important NSW ACE Strategy, which builds on the NSW Government’s ACE Policy Statement (July 2020). This new Strategy is the most comprehensive examination of the role of NSW ACE in at least 16 years and will incorporate extensive foundation skills delivery details. The NSW Government is updating its Smart and Skilled providers list – for which ACE providers are funded to undertake “Entitlement Foundation Skills”. The NSW ACE Strategy follows Victoria’s lead in 2020, with the launch of The Ministerial Statement on the Future of Adult Community Education Victoria 2020-25. That Statement focuses the Victorian adult community education sector on adult literacy, numeracy, employability and digital skills training.”

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