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Literacy task force spells out its objectives

Research shows that you have to take account of the reasons why people want to learn, reports John Cairney

THE Scottish Executive's "adult literacy 2000" team has no doubt about the task it faces. "The long-term aim is to have the Scottish population with the literacy they need to cope with the changes that are coming both in the economy and in society - to make people lifelong learners," its leader says.

Professor Stephanie Young, director of lifelong learning at Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, is joined on the four-strong team with a remit to develop a national strategy by Catherine Macrae of Edinburgh Council, who is co-ordinator of the national development project on adult literacy, and Anne Pia and Gerry Cairns from HMI. A dedicated group of three Scottish Executive officials will work with them.

The team was appointed in June by Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, who has described the figure of an estimated 20 per cent of adult Scots with basic literacy and numeracy problems as "unacceptable". Professor Young said it would be looking at literacy in modern terms, based on people's roles as worker, family member, citizen and learner.

"This means we are covering the economic and the social simultaneously," she said. "All the research shows that you have to take account of the reasons why people want to learn. It could be for work or because they need something to help their family. We have to base provision arouund the learner, their motivations and their needs."

Delivery will be a key factor. Mr McLeish has already warned local authorities, traditionally one of the main providers, that they may miss out when funds are allocated next year, accusing them o failing to promote basic skills in their community education programmes and omitting to highlight literacy in community learning strategies.

Professor Young has promised there will be "a comprehensive audit of provision". The literacy team has commissioned work to find out what the voluntary sector, further education colleges and local authorities are providing, what the current capacity is and what scope there is to expand.

A study by the Adult Literacies in Scotland Project suggested that the capacity to deliver adult literacy programmes was very low so Professor Young and her colleagues will consider what can be done to increase capacity quickly. An announcement is planned in the next few months on what kind of projects are required.

Quality will not be ignored and the net will be cast wide, Professor Young says. "We will be assessing how many trained staff are available and what training needs to be provided. A whole host of other agencies such as health and social workers also meet people with literacy problems, so it is about getting all these people to work together to make sure those who need help can get it."

She argues that a key tool for practitioners, managers and policy-makers will be a resource pack produced by the national development project, which Professor Young also chairs.

The pack includes a definition of literacy: "To be able to read, write and use numbers and numerical information in private, family and working life in order to handle information, express ideas and opinions, make decisions, solve problems and continue to learn in a rapidly changing world."

"This is a 21st conception of literacy for a modern economy," Professor Young said.

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