Army to help spot illiterates


Tomorrow 15,000 young men will have their reading and writing abilities checked by the army.

The scheme, set up by a partnership of ministries, aims to test the literacy levels of 1.2 million young men over the next year. Its launch coincides with the phasing out of national service.

The ministry of defence will be responsible for identifying many of those in difficulty. Since 1991, the army has given reading tests to new conscripts who have left school without qualifications as one of the measures used for estimating national illiteracy levels.

Last week's agreement was signed by Martine Aubry, the minister for employment and solidarity; Segol ne Royal, the schools minister, and Alain Richard, the defence minister, as part of the government's anti-exclusion policy.

Unqualified youngsters with problems with reading or finding work will be given practical help. Educationally, this will include special literacy courses to be set up in coll ges and vocational lycees and to be taught by newly-retired teachers and classroom assistants - thousands of whom are being appointed under the government's youth employment scheme.

Of the 400,000 young men who were called up in 1996, some 50,000 were examined. A total of 6 per cent were unable to read or write and a further 43 per cent had difficulties varying from 7 per cent who were capable of reading only isolated words to 22 per cent who could read texts only superficially.

Now the government is replacing national service with one compulsory "call for preparation for defence" day (APD), during which over-18s will learn about the role and objectives of defence and take educational evaluation tests.

Tomorrow is the first APD day, involving 220 army centres around the country. Women will be included from 2000 and the aim is to assess 800,000 young people annually.

At school, children's reading is tested at age seven or eight, and when they start coll ge (lower secondary), usually at age 10 or 11.

Latest figures, for September 1997, show that six out of seven of the older group had at least basic reading skills, but there was a wide gap between the strongest and weakest, and the weakest children were further below the average than the strongest were above it.

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