Helping Address Adult Literacy Rates

More needs to be done to de-stigmatise low adult literacy, and schools need greater resources in the early years, if we are to help educate the more than one million Kiwis who have literacy issues, according to an industry expert.

Research shows that around a quarter of Kiwis do not have the reading, writing and maths skills to equip them for everyday life*.

Jane Gilmour, of Literacy Waitakere, a registered charity which provides tutoring for adults with few or no school qualifications, says many of us take for granted our basic ability to read and write.

“We see people every day who, usually through no fault of their own, haven’t had enough schooling as children, so aren’t able to do the basics required to succeed in life,” she says.

Literacy Waitakere tutors reading, writing, spelling, numeracy and computer skills to adults of all ages, who all have different reasons for their lack of literacy.

“Often those who come to us for help have been failed by the school system: perhaps they were made to feel bad at school because they had poor handwriting, or they didn’t get to attend school regularly because of family disruptions,” she says.

Gilmour says schools need more funding during the early years and smaller class sizes so all children can have the opportunity to learn at their own pace.

She says many of the adults who eventually seek help are embarrassed about their lack of ability and we need to do more to destigmatise their inability to read, write and complete basic maths problems.

“Many of our students have little or no computer skills and may not attend WINZ appointments because they can’t read or understand the information required. Most also lack the confidence to ask for help.

“It’s a huge step for someone to walk through our doors they often think they are the only ones with literacy issues until they get here and realise a lot of people struggle.”

Such was the case with Paul,  who admits the task of learning numeracy and literacy in adulthood seemed ‘overwhelming’ before he came to Literacy Waitakere. “Every job I chose in the past was based on the belief I couldn’t do any better, and government department forms like tax would be stressful – I’d misinterpret what I was seeing” he says. “It’s really difficult to cope in a literate society. You’ve got to break through the negative feelings like anger and resentment, and feeling dumb.”

Paul says since taking part in the literacy programme his job options and confidence have improved. “Without literacy, people like me can end up not living the life they want or dream of. When your options expand, life has more hope.”

Gilmour says a $13,500 donation from The Trusts Million Dollar Mission will now be used to pay for running costs, including paying specialist adult literacy tutors.

“The adult literacy “toolbox” contains many strategies to help adults acquire the various skills they need. Adults learn differently from children and begin with goal setting, taking responsibility for their own learning. One strategy is known as “scaffolding”’ – we start an individual person’s learning where their knowledge foundation sits. Everybody is different – perhaps someone has some basic vocabulary or spelling, so we’ll give them a text they can read comfortably, and once they have the confidence to read that, we’ll go on to the next step.”

“All our income is from grants and donations, and all our services are free,” says Gilmour. “We don’t charge learners– literacy is a basic human right.”

Literacy Waitakere is 1 of over 100 community projects who’ve received Million Dollar Mission funding in the last 3 years. Learn more here.