Literacy drive the best in 20 years

6th July 2001 at 01:00
pound;22m is to be spent on the next three years to boost Scots' word-power, but it still won't be nearly enough. Neil Munro reports

The most comprehensive attempt for 20 years to boost adult literacy and numeracy was launched this week - but initial targets will only scratch the surface of the problem.

More than pound;22million is to be invested over the next three years to add another 33,200 new learners to the 45,000 currently expected to be given help with literacy and numeracy problems during this period.

Wendy Alexander, the Lifelong Learning Minister, who launched the package in Glasgow's Shettleston Library on Monday, said this would more than double existing literacy and numeracy provision.

But since only 2 per cent of the 800,000 adult Scots (23 per cent of the population) estimated to have very low literacy and numeracy skills get help now, the target would reach just 4.25 per cent of them by 2004.

Ms Alexander said: "I am determined to ensure everyone receives a high quality learning experience geared around their own learning aspirations. We need to develop a system that really attracts learners, meets their personal wishes and recognises their progress as learners."

She was announcing her acceptance of proposals from the adult literacy team established by Henry McLeish, her predecessor, in June last year.

The team's report acknowledges the scale of the task, not only in reaching the target population but also in convincing them that they need to raise their literacy and numeracy levels. The report says a "huge expansion" in available learning is required but calls for a gradual approach since nine out of 10 of the adults involved are satisfied with their skills and therefore "it is not practical to seek to engage too many learners too quickly".

The literacy team is also anxious to make sure adults are not turned off. "The quality of provision needs to be approved and assured at the same time as expanding capacity to ensure we attract and retain learners," its report states.

Stephanie Young, the senior director (employability) with Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, who led the adult literacy team, said: "Our target groups try to disguise their problems or don't fully recognise their need for help. We must find new ways of engaging learners and ensure they receive the best help possible."

One of the team's key recommendations, therefore, is that literacy and numeracy courses should be tested in four pathfinder projects. Four more projects will explore ways of stimulating demand for literacy and numeracy.

A national training team has already been established to introduce better quality into the system. More attention has to be paid to how adults learn, the report adds.

The Minister accepts the report's recommendation that a "development engine" is also necessary to act as a centre of expertise to drive forward the changes, but there is no indication of who should fulfil this role. Community Learning Scotland is one obvious candidate, but it is to be reviewed as part of the Executive's quango cull.

Leader, page 26

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