I worked in the area of adult literacy for around 10 years, after a decade previously working with teenagers at high school, many of whom had huge literacy problems.
When I was teaching ‘English’ to the 13 and 14 year olds I had superb help from a ‘Reading Recovery Teacher’. We ran programmes that matched kids with suitable books, taught them consonant blends, and a whole heap of other practical skills.
Once I was working in adult literacy I discovered some very interesting things. For one thing, people had to want to learn to read and write. For another, you needed to start at their starting point, not at some arbitrary place.
With one adult male student we actually went right back to learning the alphabet.
It was also interesting to see how the young men, to generalise hugely, didn’t really settle down and start learning until around the age of 28.
I left school teaching in 1984 and I left adult literacy work in 1994.
Unfortunately, it sounds as though New Zealand’s literacy skills haven’t improved in the last decade. At an Literacy Research Symposium Professor Chapman presented the paper Adult Literacy in New Zealand, 1996-2006:
“The 2006 adult literacy survey results show minimal improvements in adult literacy from data gathered 10 years earlier,” he says. “In fact, for young adults aged 16-24, the results are actually worse.” …
Among the poor results are more than 60 per cent of Maori adults and 70 per cent of Pasifika adults who scored below the minimum literacy levels, which Professor Chapman says reflects failed attempts to support promised improvements in the functional literacy of those communities.
“You can’t develop an inclusive, multi-cultural democracy when such large numbers of our citizens don’t have the necessary literacy skills,” he says.
I don’t have further information about the Survey unfortunately.
I always hate it when people equate poor literacy with being ‘dumb’. Many adults with poor literacy skills are successful in what interests them. They may be highly skilled in areas that don’t depend on reading — perhaps farming or sport or car mechanics.
When someone has problems reading and writing at a basic level it disrupts any further learning, makes it harder to function in daily life and tends to reduce their confidence in themselves.
Adults need to have self confidence, the ability to use reading and writing skills to generate income, and to help their kids with their school work. They need to impart the value of literacy.
The causes of literacy difficulties are many and complex. There are no easy, quick-fix answers. Nor is it right to focus all the attention on the kids. We need as a nation to improve the literacy skills of both adults and kids.