Literacy drive targets IT skills

6th April 2001 at 01:00
There has to be "a cultural shift" in attitudes to learning if problems of adult literacy and numeracy are to be tackled effectively, the Lifelong Learning Minister declared last week.

Speaking at an adult literacy conference in Renfrew, Wendy Alexander said that only one in six of 800,000 adult Scots with the lowest literacy levels is dissatisfied with their skills, while one in five recognise that it limits their job prospects.

"That 16 per cent may seem extraordinary to some," Ms Alexander said, "but it points to the scale of the challenge we face."

Ms Alexander, currently studying the report from the adult literacy team set up by ministers last year, acknowledged that even the pound;22.5 million the Executive has committed to tackling illiteracy and innumeracy will not solve all the problems. She said it was the start of a programme of "investment in people and in national prosperity" lasting at least 10 years.

The Executive's drive was praised by an American academic who spoke at the conference organised by Reid Kerr College. Professor Donald Leu of Connecticut University said he was "jealous of Scotland", adding: "At least your Government has identified literacy as a critical problem and is willing to invest in it. It is a very special opportunity."

Professor Leu, whose discipline is literacy and technology, said any programme of adult education must include "the new literacies of the Internet". Otherwise "we will simply be preparing adults for the literacies f our past".

Ms Alexander agreed that the drive on adult literacy and numeracy must include access to information technologies which she described as "the new essential basic skills alongside literacy and numeracy".

Learning how to learn was as important as literacy skills themselves, Professor Leu said. Adults must be hooked by informational texts not works of fiction, and there had to be creative models of learning such as Internet-based projects and workplace simulations.

Such factors made it vital to invest in adult literacy tutors, Professor Leu said. Ms Alexander supported that emphasis and pointed to Scotland's training project for local practitioners working in literacy and numeracy, which had received a "hugely encouraging" response.

Ann Jakeman, director of organisational learning at the Bank of Scotland, suggested business had not been good at acknowledging employees' literacy and numeracy requirements.

Mrs Jakeman, who is on the board of the Scottish University for Industry, warned: "You can't just throw learning at people." There had to be a supportive environment both in the workplace and in learning centres. Of 60,000 learning opportunities on the University for Industry's database, 125 are in adult literacy.

Inez Bailey, director of the National Adult Literacy Agency in Ireland, said those with literacy problems have other needs. Success would not be achieved simply by referring people to a literacy service.

Leader, page 16

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