The Committee is aware that a significant part of the challenge of improving adult language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy (LLND) skills in Australia lies on the supply side. As noted in Chapter 2, there is evidence of significant unmet demand for existing programs. The Reading Writing Hotline reported that, in 2019-20, there was no appropriate provision available for 13 per cent of callers.
The Reading Writing Hotline said that some Australians ‘may wait 15 years to find the courage to ask for help, only to be told that there's actually no help available. This happens far too often, despite the best efforts of the hotline staff to support our callers.’
The availability of programs supporting adult LLND skills development varies by region. For example, it was reported that the Reading Writing Hotline is often unable to identify suitable access to programs for individuals in the Northern Territory.
This chapter examines the range of Australian, state and territory government and community-based adult LLND education programs that are currently available and the reasons why there are gaps in provision.
The Committee heard that many adults with low LLND skills need assistance to realise their civic, legal and financial rights. This chapter also examines the capacity of community services to meet demand for assistance with literacy mediation, form filling, legal advice and financial counselling.
Programs supporting adult LLND skills development
Governments fund a range of training and education services to develop and improve adult LLND skills, including through:
programs that develop the skills of the Australian workforce and encourage strong settlement outcomes for migrants and refugees
accredited courses in the vocational education and training (VET) system
accredited and non-accredited courses in community-based education programs, referred to as adult and community education (ACE), and in public libraries
education programs delivered to young people and adults in custody
This range of services reflects the diverse needs and backgrounds of adults with LLND skills gaps in the community.
Australian Government programs
As noted in Chapter 1, the focus of Australian Government programs supporting adult LLND skills development are employment readiness and promoting good migrant settlement outcomes. The main Australian Government programs are:
Foundation Skills for Your Future (FSFYF)
Skills for Education and Employment (SEE)
Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP).
The Australian Government also funds the Reading Writing Hotline.
Foundation Skills for Your Future and Remote Community Pilots
In response to Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System (the Joyce review), in 2019 the Australian Government announced FSFYF. Under FSFYF, Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) deliver contextualised LLND training to employees either in a traditional VET or workplace setting.
Those eligible to participate in FSFYF are Australian citizens or permanent residents aged 15 and over who are finished with secondary school education, currently employed or recently unemployed, and not currently registered with an Australian Government employment service provider or enrolled in a similar program.
Estimated funding for FSFYF is $14.3 million over 2021-22, decreasing to $7.1 million in 2022-23.
The 2019-20 Budget included the Foundation Skills for Your Future - Remote Community Pilots (FSFYF Remote Community Pilots) initiative to deliver LLND skills assessment and training in four remote communities, one in each of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Queensland. Residents of remote communities are eligible to participate if they are aged 15 years and over and have left secondary school education.
The FSFYF Remote Community Pilots aim to:
improve community members’ LLND skills
identify and develop systemic approaches to LLND skills training delivery in remote communities
inform future program delivery, new funding arrangements and changes to existing programs.
The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) stated:
Each Pilot will also aim to respond to local community needs and aspirations by co-designing Pilot content and operations with community stakeholders. Four distinct models for delivering training will be trialled to improve the LLND skills of individuals and across participating communities and inform foundation skills policies and programs.
AMES Australia noted that since FSFYF is a new program, there is not yet any publicly available data or evidence concerning its effectiveness.
The Reading Writing Hotline said that workplace literacy could be strengthened by expanding FSFYF, using incentives such as funding employers to release individuals for LLND courses during working hours, and funding employers to provide local classes for potential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in remote communities who require higher LLND skill levels.
Skills for Education and Employment program
SEE delivers language, literacy and numeracy assessment and training of up to 650 hours to eligible jobseekers with the aim of improving their ability to participate in further training and the workforce. To gain access to the program, jobseekers are referred from Services Australia or by providers of jobactive, the disability employment program, the Community Development Program, Transition to Work or ParentsNext.
There are 20 RTOs who deliver SEE across the country. Training can be undertaken either full-time or part-time, depending on the jobseeker's needs and requirements.
To be eligible for SEE, participants must be:
aged between 15 years and Age Pension age
registered as a jobseeker, including as a volunteer jobseeker
deemed suitable for training without any barriers that would prevent successful participation
either an Australian citizen or permanent resident or have working rights in Australia.
In terms of training, DESE said:
… jobseekers are enrolled in an accredited training course. Training courses tend to be language, literacy and numeracy focused. Specific courses are the Foundation Skills Training Package or certificates in spoken and written English. On commencement of the program, jobseekers are assessed and their language, literacy and numeracy needs identified, and then they're placed in a course that is appropriate for them.
DESE reported that, for every 200 hours a SEE participant attends training, they undertake another assessment to measure language, literacy and numeracy progress against the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF). DESE reported:
in 2019-20, 96 per cent of assessed SEE participants increased one or more levels on the ACSF
in 2019-20, 6,497 participants completed SEE, meaning that they found employment, undertook further training or completed 650 hours
in 2019, the average participant spent 340 hours or 8 months in the program.
DESE indicated that funding for SEE was about $117 million in 2020-21 and will increase over the forward estimates to approximately $125 million in 2023-24.
The 2021-22 Budget included $16.6 million to expand eligibility and uncap the number of hours jobseekers are able to access within SEE.
According to AMES Australia, while many now access this program, newly arrived migrants and refugees are not an identified SEE priority group.
The Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL) said that while SEE initially had a number of objectives, it currently appears to meet only one partial objective, that is a pathway to work. ACAL considered that SEE does not provide a range of choices tailored to meet the goals of the participants nor does it provide alternative pathways to further training. It does however, provide a pathway to VET. According to ACAL, there is no publicly available data to indicate its effectiveness.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government announced the JobTrainer program in 2020, which provides free or low fee training for jobseekers and young people, including school leavers, to upskill or reskill in areas of identified need as the economy recovers from COVID-19.
The Australian Government has committed $500 million in 2020–21 for JobTrainer, contingent on matched contributions from the states and territories. The JobTrainer fund includes some literacy and numeracy training provision.
Adult Migrant English Program
AMEP was established soon after World War II (1948) and has been the flagship program, amongst a range of government services, aimed at assisting new migrants and humanitarian entrants to learn English language and literacy skills to enable them to participate socially and economically in Australia. The Australian Government has committed $1 billion to AMEP over the forward estimates.
AMEP is administered by the Department of Home Affairs and is delivered by 13 providers at around 300 locations across Australia, in major cities as well as rural and regional areas. The program offers different attendance options such as full-time, part-time, evening and weekend classes. There are also a range of delivery types, including face-to-face, online and virtual classes. In locations with no AMEP site, a distance learning option is available. Free child care is available to AMEP students with children under school age.
As the Australian Government’s largest migrant settlement program, AMEP caters to a diverse range of students with varying levels of education and employment status who have different goals in relation to their English language, such as undertaking basic transactions, talking to their child’s teacher, pursuing further education and/or finding employment.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, AMEP students have highly varied prior levels of exposure to English and classroom learning. Some students will have had many years of education in their country of origin and may have some degree of English proficiency. They may be qualified and ready to learn vocational English. Others, however, may have had little or no exposure to English or opportunities to undertake schooling, and may have no literacy in their own or other languages. Additionally, their main language may have no written tradition.
The majority of migrants begin AMEP at a low or very low level of English language proficiency, with approximately 80 per cent of students entering AMEP below ACSF Level 1. While initial assessment of AMEP students shows low levels of proficiency, over 90 per cent of students show improvement upon exiting the program.
In August 2020, the Australian Government announced significant reforms to AMEP to allow students to remain in the program for as long as they need in order to reach vocational English. The Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Act 2020, which enabled these reforms, came into effect on 19 April 2021. The reforms in the Act included:
removing a cap that limits government-funded English tuition to 510 hours to provide unlimited hours of tuition. Previously, AMEP participants were entitled to up to 510 hours of tuition but this is insufficient for most participants. Closer to 2,000 hours was considered to be required for the majority of participants who entered the program at very low levels of English;
raising the language threshold from functional to vocational English. The previous legislation provided for tuition up to functional English. A person with functional English is generally considered to be able to take part in informal conversations and handle routine activity that is not linguistically demanding. This level of proficiency is insufficient for participation in Vocational Education and Training beyond the Certificate I/II level and considered by many employers as too low for employment. Extending eligibility to vocational English focussed AMEP on vocational pathways; and
removing time limits on enrolling, commencing and completing AMEP tuition for those already in Australia as at 1 October 2020. To participate in the AMEP, migrants generally have to: register with an AMEP service provider within six months of arrival in Australia (or 12 months if they are under 18 years of age); commence tuition within 12 months; and complete tuition within five years. There are cohorts who have been in Australia for more than 10 years who, for various reasons, have not commenced or have not completed English tuition. Removing the time limits for registration, commencement and completion of English tuition for permanent visa holders or eligible temporary visa holders with a visa commencement day on or before 1 October 2020 provides an opportunity for these people to re-engage in language learning.
Prior to the legislated changes that came into effect on 19 April 2021, the Australian Government implemented a new business model for AMEP in July 2017. The new business model established two AMEP service streams: social English and pre-employment English. Pre-employment stream classes are funded at a higher level. Teachers of those classes are required to have a degree and postgraduate qualifications in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Social stream classes are funded at a lower level and can be taught by unqualified teachers.
The Australian Education Union (AEU) expressed concern that this has created a two-tier system of English language delivery where those learning English for non-employment related reasons are potentially getting second-class tuition.
According to AEU, the implications of these changes have been damaging both for migrant English learning and achieving positive settlement outcomes. AMEP students require English language and literacy in order to participate in society at all levels. Employment, while an important milestone in the settlement journey of many migrants, is only one domain of communication.
This concern was echoed by the Settlement Council of Australia, which cautioned against an over-emphasis on employment skills in AMEP:
For many participants, employment will be their primary personal goal, and their settlement goal. However, there will also be participants who are not of working age, or who have health, social or other settlement goals as their more immediate focus. An over-emphasis on employment can undermine other legitimate goals.
Further, putting too strong an emphasis on job-seeking too early in a person’s settlement journey can be counter-productive to employment outcomes. This approach often limits progress in learning to speak English as well as limiting their potential to acquire a job to match their skills and aspirations. They may instead become stuck in low-skilled and low-income jobs, and consequently experience poorer social outcomes. The goals of the program should remain firmly in the achievement of English language proficiency, literacy skills, and good settlement outcomes.
The reforms to AMEP have also drawn criticism for their proposed funding model. The initially proposed funding model for AMEP was based on attendance. The Victorian Council of Social Service pointed out that this model does not take into account the ongoing fixed costs of running the program, or factor in that students will at times be unwell or unable to attend due to caring responsibilities.
The Australian Council of TESOL Associations (ACTA) was particularly unhappy with this funding model and proposed a funding model that instead included:
Set up costs based on an analysis of data from previous contracts.
On-going payments that are a fixed per capita amount per term based on the number of students enrolled and attending in the first week of the term. These payments should be made monthly to maintain cash flow.
An agreement of what constitutes an ‘exit’ from the program, so that providers continue to receive payments if a student misses a class.
A cap on payments with regard to class sizes (no more than 20 students).
To address concerns about the initially proposed funding model, the Department of Home Affairs developed a revised funding model, released in December 2021. The revised funding model proposed an AMEP initial assessment payment, being a one-off payment made when a student completes their registration and initial assessment.
The Department of Home Affairs is also proposing the unit of competency payment be provided in several portions that are dependent on a student’s progress, to address concerns regarding service provider viability and cash flow. Payments would be made when a student:
commences and attends a class in a unit of competency (termed a unit commencement payment; 10% of the total unit price);
completes 50% of a unit’s nominal hours (termed a unit milestone payment and equal to 40% of the total unit price); and either
completes a unit of competency without meeting all criteria required to pass (termed an unsuccessful unit completion payment; 30% of the total unit price); or
successfully completes a unit of competency (termed a successful unit completion payment; 50% of the total unit price).
Finally, the proposed funding model provides for a pre-certificate tuition payment. The Department of Home Affairs stated that:
Stakeholders raised concerns that students at this level can take time to establish appropriate learning strategies and may take longer to complete units of competency. Under the revised business model, the pre-certificate tuition payment would be made for every 10 hours of training students complete in EAL [English as an Additional Language] Framework courses.
Reading Writing Hotline
The Reading Writing Hotline has been funded by the Australian Government and managed by TAFE NSW for 25 years. It maintains a database of all current adult literacy and numeracy providers, and can offer advice on courses, teachers and tutors that are in a caller’s local area, as well as a range of other resources and workbooks. The hotline receives more than 4,000 calls each year.
The Reading Writing Hotline receives program funding of $638,000 annually. The Australian Government provided the hotline with an additional $3 million in the 2021-22 Budget to support its national services and research to improve foundation skills delivery.
There was support for the work of, and continued funding for, the Reading Writing Hotline. For example, ACAL said the hotline ‘is a valuable service linking potential learners to teachers and mapping the availability of provision across Australia and the gaps that exist. This service needs to be continued.’
State and territory government programs
State and territory governments primarily support LLND skills training by subsidising accredited and pre-vocational courses offered in the VET system, in partnership with the Australian Government.
State and territory governments also provide targeted subsidies to make training more affordable and concessions available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, people with disability and recipients of certain government payments. The Productivity Commission reported that the size of the discount to full fees varies but is substantial.
State and territory governments provide varying levels of support for the ACE sector, which includes a range of community based, not-for-profit organisations that offer both accredited qualifications and non-accredited or pre-accredited, introductory LLND education programs and courses.
In addition, state and territory funded public libraries and correctional institutions support adult LLND skills development.
Vocational education and training
Australia’s VET system is a joint responsibility of Australian, state and territory governments and is delivered by RTOs, which can be commercial or not-for-profit organisations, or government supported Technical and Further Education (TAFE) providers.
As noted in Chapter 1, the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development (NASWD) defines the framework for intergovernmental collaboration in VET, and identifies the long-term objectives of the Australian Government and state and territory governments in the areas of skills and workforce development. All governments have committed to working together to develop a new National Skills Agreement to replace the NASWD in the first half of 2022, to provide stronger support for foundation skills and ensure access for all Australians with low levels of LLND skills as a priority.
VET is regulated by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). ASQA is responsible for the registration of RTOs and monitoring their compliance with national VET standards.
VET qualifications are developed in accordance with the Australian Qualifications Framework.
In 2018, 197,000 students were undertaking nationally recognised VET courses or qualifications designed to teach LLND skills. According to the Productivity Commission, the data suggested that LLND courses delivered through the VET system reach a diverse cohort, although they acknowledged access in remote locations is difficult. For example:
students who did not complete Year 12 comprised half of the students undertaking LLND skills training in VET in 2018
half of the students studying LLND in the VET system are from non-English-speaking backgrounds
8 per cent of students studying LLND skills identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in 2018
88 per cent of students undertaking LLND skills training in 2018 came from the cities or inner regional areas.
TAFE Queensland said ‘we've got serious LLND skills gaps with a lot of our students’ and reported that about 40 per cent of its students had literacy levels at below Level 1 on the ACSF.
In 2019, governments spent about $6.4 billion on VET. In addition, the Australian Government provided about $500 million in VET student loans and trade support loans. The Productivity Commission found that, while total real funding has remained stable in recent years, this largely coincided with lower training activity, such that funding per student has increased and is broadly comparable to funding per student in both higher education and schools.
AEU said that TAFE had a long history of supporting foundation skills education in Australia, but this had been damaged by the privatisation of the VET system. AEU reported that, since 2012, there has been a reduction in funding to TAFE, which has resulted in fewer foundation skills education enrolments, fewer courses and larger class sizes.
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress reported that VET course completion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are low across Australia, particularly in very remote areas (17 per cent, compared to 33 per cent in major cities). It noted that completion rates are lowest for Certificate I and II courses and that, in remote areas of the Northern Territory, around two-thirds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not have the skills to complete these courses. The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress said ‘[c]ommunity-based adult literacy programs … are therefore essential, not just for the direct literacy and social benefits they bring, but also to ensure Aboriginal people, especially in remote areas, have the skills to undertake and successfully complete VET courses.’
Adult and community education
ACE providers are community owned and managed, not-for-profit organisations that have adult education as a primary focus. ACE programs are primarily supported by state and territory governments and are community-focussed and non-formal; however, a significant minority of community education providers are also RTOs.
Pre-accredited training addresses the needs of adults who may have experienced barriers to education in the past and require an initial, non-assessed entry or re-entry into learning.
The ACE sector enables inclusive learning and facilitates access by offering learning programs in friendly, community settings that cater for adults of varying abilities and backgrounds.
ACE providers are highly networked within their local communities and with local non-government organisations, government agencies, social services and employers. ACE providers have a long history of helping their communities and responding to the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians. They do this through small class sizes, focussing on personal support and connecting with key government agencies, services and employers.
Adult Learning Australia commented:
ACE is a gateway for all adults to return to learning at any stage along the learning time line, no matter their age, gender, culture, ability or previous educational experience or attainment. The sector recognises that there is no ‘traditional student’, only a spectrum of learners with their own needs and preferences to be taken into account.
Adult Learning Australia argued that ACE providers have strong expertise in delivering basic adult LLND programs that offer pathways into further learning and work, as well as providing essential life skills.
Community Colleges Australia said that ACE providers offer courses that reengage ‘missing’ learners, especially those with low LLND skills, and create and sustain social and community networks. According to Community Colleges Australia:
Our sector’s history permits our members to be strategic and innovative in their flexibility to employ a wide range of tools. ACE providers play a strategic role because they have the freedom to take considered risks. They are not bound by government structures in the way that TAFEs are, nor are they beholden to private shareholders to supply cash returns in the way of for-profit private providers.
Community Colleges Australia reported that, in 2018, Australians with disability enrolled in ACE courses (16 per cent) twice as often as VET courses (8 per cent). In addition, more adults from low socioeconomic backgrounds and adults aged over 45 years were enrolled in ACE courses compared to VET (34.6 per cent compared to 28.2 per cent, and 25.3 per cent compared to 15.9 per cent, respectively).
The ACE sector is also important for providing LLND tuition, settlement support, and vocational training and employment services to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
For example, courses offered by AMES Australia range from short one to two-week intensive courses to longer 10 week courses, predominantly addressing contextualised LLND skills development and career pathway orientation for migrants and refugees.
Adult Literacy Australia called for greater recognition of the contribution of the ACE sector to LLND education by renewing the national Ministerial Declaration on Adult Community Education. The Declaration provided a national policy framework that supports a collaborative approach to ACE, particularly in relation to its role in the provision of vocationally focused education and training and fostering the development of skills required for individuals to participate fully in their communities and the economy.
The Committee heard that support for ACE varies by state and territory. For example, in Victoria the Adult, Community and Further Education Board funds pre-accredited training delivered by ACE providers. This funding allows eligible providers to design and deliver programs that provide a stepping stone into future education, training and employment.
Conversely, the Committee heard that there is no ACE sector in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory Stakeholder Group said this means ‘there is nothing available for anyone not already enrolled in a VET course, or who is unable to meet eligibility requirements for Commonwealth funded programs.’
The Committee heard that some existing ACE providers are surviving on little or no government funding. For example, the Caboolture Community Adult Literacy Group reported that it currently receives no government funding, noting that there previously was Queensland government funding available through a community adult literacy program from the early 1990s until 2012 in Queensland.
The Caboolture Community Adult Literacy Group explained that it survived on donations and the fund raising of volunteers: ‘We make jams, pickles and chilli sauce. Some of our ladies crochet and knit. Twice a month we go to the Bribie Island markets … Yesterday we sold 110 jars of jam!’
Another challenge for many ACE providers is that they rely on volunteers to provide tutoring and other services. In South Australia, each week 35,000 people are in contact with community centres and this demand is supported by 20,000 hours of volunteer labour.
The challenge of having enough volunteers to keep up with demand for LLND skills support in the ACE sector has been exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, as the experience of volunteers in the Read Write Now program illustrates, volunteer tutoring can be personally enriching and rewarding for volunteers, and life changing for those who are learning.
Read Write Now
Read Write Now is a Western Australian program that relies on volunteer tutors who work one-on-one with over 600 adults each year. The program is funded by the Western Australian Government who fund three and a half staff members that work with 400 to 600 volunteer tutors. In Western Australia, the main source of adult literacy support is the Read Write Now program.
Read Write Now provides free tutoring for students who have difficulties reading and writing. The student decides what they wish to focus on, such as filling out forms, or reading aloud to their children. The program supports students to, for example, complete Centrelink forms and navigate the myGov website.
The support provided by Read Write Now volunteers varies to suit the needs of those seeking support, for example some tutors worked in the Broome women's prison, while another learned braille to teach a blind student to read, and a tutor in Kalgoorlie helped a stroke victim to keep his job.
The Read Write Now program began in the 1970s to assist TAFE-apprenticed mechanics with written tests of their competence. The program focused primarily on Australian-born adult students, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, but also provided tutoring for migrant students. This was organised by a paid head office in Perth city, volunteer coordinators in regional areas of the city and state-wide, and volunteer personal tutors who were mostly retirees.
The program’s funding discriminates in favour of people from an English-speaking background who have fallen through the cracks in the school system. However, as some of the accounts in Box 4.1 show, many adults with migrant backgrounds are strongly supported by Read Write Now volunteer tutors.
Box 4.1: Selected comments from Read Write Now volunteers
The following selection of comments from Read Write Now volunteers demonstrates the importance of the flexible and personalised support provided by adult LLND volunteer educators in Australia:
I have been B’s tutor for four months. B is 50 years old and been resident in Australia 25 years from a country in Africa. Last year she was channelled to Read Write Now … through a job agency because she was unemployable due to illiteracy. She has raised six children (four of whom have, or are studying a university degree, and two are in high school). Until fairly recently, B has rarely ventured out of her house other than to shop close-by, supervise her children at recreation activities and to drop and collect her children from school.
B had felt disinclined to leave her house for many years, other than for essential purposes because of her illiteracy. With knowledge that she has support, and her growing confidence, B wants to assert her independence and pursue engagement in activities she had previously suppressed. This has greatly improved her mental wellbeing.
Some of the people I have assisted [include] … a student who left a domestic situation in which there was abuse, which had eroded the student’s self-esteem. The student needed to find employment to pay for child support. The individual’s aim was to complete further education and get a better job. I was able to assist the student in building self confidence relating to learning abilities. The individual was awarded a TAFE prize on completion of a certificate.
[Name withheld] is a young man from [Country withheld] who is a trained chef. He wants to repay the country that has welcomed him by working in the community. He is currently training as an aged care nurse as this is where he sees the greatest need, but he is having difficulty with the course due to poor reading and writing skills. He has attended an English course at TAFE but says the class was very large and made up of people from many different countries, so learning was difficult. [Name withheld] gets up at 4.20 am every week day to do his cleaning job, then goes straight to the aged care training for 5 hours and then back to his cleaning job for another 4 hours.
A few years ago, I decided to get some help not just in my mental health but also to finally work on my reading and writing. I found it hard to find someone that would tutor an adult and the lack of direction on where to get help and lack of advertising made this challenging. I would start to get help then it would all become too hard again. This would definitely put some people off seeking help and sticking with it. But after a few tries I found an amazing organisation called Read Write Now in Perth WA [Western Australia]. I have been seeing my tutor for over 8 months and have made improvements and I’m looking at starting my certificate three in Community Services sometime this year once I feel my writing is up for the challenge. I have always felt supported by my tutor and he goes above and beyond to help me, often paying for supplies out of his own pocket.
My training with Read Write Now enabled me to help [my first student] learn after a few months of lessons, to identify the whole alphabet, write his address, read, and recognise sight words, spell words and complete forms. He even learned the confidence to read a book out loud. Due to his inability to read, he was unemployed and lamented the fact of not being able to earn money by having a job. After 8 months of tutoring my student became confident enough that he applied for a job at Woolworths and then started working. Not only has he landed himself a job, but he also learnt basic literacy and numeracy skills. This to me implied a huge success with the Read Write Now programme.
Public libraries in Australia provide informal learning opportunities that are free, local, at convenient times, provided at an entry level, in community languages, and designed around the needs of library users. The community literacy programs for adults offered by libraries are typically small and unthreatening, focusing on supporting individuals’ needs and starting them on the path to re-engaging with learning.
The Australian Library and Information Association provided several examples of local programs run by Australian libraries to support people’s LLND skills:
Tech Savvy Seniors is a Telstra program run to improve digital literacy skills for older members of the community, hosted by public libraries in NSW [New South Wales], QLD [Queensland] and Victoria.
Libraries Tasmania has 23 Literacy Coordinators located around the state, supported by 26TEN, Tasmania’s strategy for adult literacy and numeracy.
In 2015, the State Library of Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria published Reading for All: Adult Literacy, with six recommendations in terms of strategy, service, partnerships, capacity building, representation and aggregation.
Libraries ACT discovered a lack of literacy support for English speaking adults in Canberra and has developed a volunteer adult literacy program. This program matches a volunteer tutor with a literacy learner and targets links their literacy learning to their individual needs and motivations.
National and State Libraries Australia described libraries as ideal providers of adult literacy programs because they are unthreatening, public and informal spaces for learning, which has been demonstrated by long-running English conversation classes in Australian libraries and Tasmania’s 26TEN program.
Libraries ACT supports adults to improve their literacy skills through English conversation classes and adult literacy tutoring. These programs are supported by an adult literacy collection, including simple texts, dictionaries, and workbooks.
Libraries ACT developed a tutoring program for adults from English-speaking backgrounds to improve their literacy skills. The program aims to provide support that is sensitive to the difficulty adults face in admitting they need help to read and write the language they can speak. The program works with local community services and ACT Government agencies who refer adults to learn one-on-one with a tutor from the library. Tutoring sessions are designed around each learner’s personal goals and needs. Libraries ACT said that the non-formal learning context enables the program to be flexible and responsive to each learner.
Libraries ACT reported that participants in the tutoring program have learned to read text messages, pass their drivers’ license test, share story books with their children, and developed the skills and confidence to go on to formal study.
Education in correctional settings
State and territory governments provide education and training to Australians in prisons and other corrections institutions. In addition to preparing Australians in custody for the workforce and for life back in the community upon their release, research indicates that focused and informed literacy and numeracy programs may result in a reduction in offending behaviours. For many offenders, corrections education may be their first opportunity to learn and build their skills.
Paul Barnes, a corrections educator from Western Australia, said:
The ultimate aim is for the learners, when they are released from prison, to have the knowledge and skills so that they can:
These outcomes and behaviours reduce the likelihood of re-offending and incarceration.
However, adults with low literacy may be less likely to engage with and learn from criminogenic programs while in prison. These programs aim to address the reasons behind offending behaviour.
In 2007, it was estimated that approximately 62 percent of Australians in prisons had less than functional literacy. Evidence suggested this may be closer to 70 per cent in Tasmania due to that state’s historically lower literacy rate. It was reported that up to 80 per cent of inmates at Tasmania’s Risdon prison do not have functional skills in one or more of the domains of reading, writing or numeracy.
Prisoners are less likely to have finished school or completed further education, and are more likely to have attended under-resourced schools, experienced punitive school discipline, and been exposed to crime and violence. These challenges diminish individuals’ opportunities for educational and economic mobility.
Research shows that children and youths in contact with the criminal justice system have significantly higher rates of severe language impairment than in the general population, which also indicates low literacy.
A Western Australian study found that 9 out of 10 youth in custodial care in Perth ‘had some form of neuro-disability which affected their executive functioning, memory, motor skills, cognition, attention, social skills and adaptive behaviour.’ Prior to the study, only 2 of the 99 young people assessed had been identified as having cognitive weaknesses and some had been labelled as ‘just naughty’.
The Committee heard that 54 per cent of prisoners exit prison into homelessness and 78 per cent will be unemployed. Low LLND skills form part of a cycle of entrenched disadvantage in which 58.3 per cent of youth involved in the justice system will be under supervision again within 12 months. The Tasmanian 100% Literacy Alliance said ‘[l]iteracy skills are a protective factor against these disadvantages.’
Evidence in Chapter 2 showed that there is a lack of research into the LLND needs of Australians in custody and this is exacerbated by the lack of uniform approaches to identify, report and review individual LLND skills across Australian jurisdictions. There was support for uniform approaches to identify, report and review the LLND skills gaps, and record participation in education and training of Australians in custody.
Corrections education is not uniformly available and may not always involve evidence-based pedagogy. There is little preservice training for educators delivering LLND, VET or higher education courses in custodial settings. Furthermore, the basic qualification of those employed through TAFE or RTO providers to deliver education in custodial settings is a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, which does not prepare students to teach in custodial settings.
The Australasian Corrections Education Association called for better planning and investment in the corrections education workforce so that literacy and numeracy programs for adult and youth offenders suit the varied needs of learners, and are delivered by qualified and experienced practitioners.
Paul Barnes said English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) learners must be supported in their oral language skills as well as literacy, and that approaches to teaching and assessment need to be culturally appropriate, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners in custody.
Other approaches to adult LLND education mobilise communities and/or employers, and government and non-government services to improve LLND skills in those communities:
Literacy for Life Foundation’s ‘Yes, I Can!’ program teaches English language literacy skills within and in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Tasmania’s 26TEN is a state-wide effort to involve all Tasmanians in raising LLND skills.
Literacy for Life Foundation
The Literacy for Life Foundation is an Aboriginal not-for-profit organisation teaching basic English language literacy skills to Aboriginal adults. The organisation uses a community-wide ‘campaign’ approach, called ‘Yes, I Can!’, which involves engaging and training local Aboriginal staff, and working at the direction of local Aboriginal community leadership. According to the Literacy for Life Foundation, this approach ‘is community-driven and place-based, adapted to suit local conditions and requirements. It is also scalable and replicable, as illustrated by consistent results achieved since it was first piloted in 2012.’
The Literacy for Life Foundation reported that the Yes, I Can! campaign’s ‘average retention rate is at least four times higher than available comparisons for equivalent programs in the same, or similar, regions.’ The campaign has operated in 13 communities: Boggabilla, Bourke, Brewarrina, Campbelltown, Collarenebri, Enngonia, Ltyentye Apurte, Tennant Creek, Toomelah, Walgett, Weilmoringle, Wilcannia and Yarrabah. It has employed and trained over 50 local Aboriginal staff, and 258 students have graduated with improved literacy skills.
Government support for the Literacy for Life Foundation has been drawn from a ‘patchwork’ of sources that currently includes one-off funding under the FSFYF Remote Community Pilots program.
The Literacy for Life Foundation applies rigour and transparency to their work, and undertakes an independent assessment of learners against the ACSF during each campaign at entry and exit. Analyses of results from 2012-18 found that 73 per cent of participants improved their baseline literacy by at least one ACSF level on at least one indicator. This figure rose to 85 per cent for men, and 100 per cent for participants who had baseline literacy at Pre Level 1, the lowest level on the ACSF. These results are contrasted with evaluations of the SEE program where it was reported that 15 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants improved their literacy.
The Lowitja Institute provided initial funding for the pilot of the Yes, I Can! approach in 2012. Support was extended following the promising early results that included a graduation rate five times higher than existing programs, and a range of benefits across the community.
The Lowitja Institute also helped the Literacy for Life Foundation design and carry out a longitudinal study of individual and community impacts, which measured changes to people’s lives in areas such as health, education and community safety.
In evaluating its Yes, I Can! campaign, the Literacy for Life Foundation found the following positive impacts on communities from improved literacy:
Positive employment and further study outcomes for participants.
Increased interactions by parents, grandparents and other significant relations in their children’s schooling.
Participants being better able to manage existing health issues, including more regular attendance at clinics and improved medication management.
Graduates making healthier lifestyle choices, including reduced alcohol and/or drug consumption, and healthier eating.
A reduction by more than half of the total number of serious offences following participation.
Improved management by graduates of their housing, and greater understanding of tenancy rights and responsibilities.
Empowerment of individuals and communities, for example more graduates than non-graduates reported having the confidence to speak up in Local Aboriginal Land Council meetings (78 per cent compared to 22 per cent).
Deborah Durnan, a researcher and adult education practitioner who worked with the Literacy for Life Foundation on its campaign in Wilcannia, said that the campaign approach works because:
it is owned and controlled by the local Aboriginal community at all stages, and the community co-designs parts of the curriculum to suit their development priorities
it employs local Aboriginal people in key roles who are provided with intensive training before and during the campaign
it employs a qualified professional educator to train and support local staff, and ensure quality of delivery and student assessment
it is flexible and adaptable to each local context
it uses an action-reflection process whereby staff and students continuously examine their own practice, progress and problem-solve issues
it uses a concurrent participatory action research methodology which involves students, community members, staff and funders independently evaluating the campaign’s implementation, and the results being used to resolve problems and identify and share best practice strategies.
There was strong support for the work of the Literacy for Life Foundation. For example, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress recommended:
The Australian Government funds the extension of community controlled adult literacy campaigns (such as the Yes I Can! program delivered by the Literacy for Life Foundation) across Australia to improve adult literacy, support literacy practices in families, build a culture that values learning amongst adults and children, and address multiple targets of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
Multiplex, a partner of the Literacy for Life Foundation, said the Yes, I Can! campaign’s success is:
… built on empowering communities to be self-sufficient, with local Aboriginal staff recruited and trained to run the literacy campaigns in their own communities.
We know that this has immense flow on effects for health, education, the justice system and employment, with over 50 per cent of Literacy for Life graduates moving on to work, further study or volunteer roles.
Multiplex said that the work of the Literacy for Life Foundation is vital in opening up opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to work in construction and that significant change can be achieved by investing in adult literacy.
The NSW Adult Literacy and Numeracy Council (NSWALNC) said that one of the strengths of the Yes, I Can! model is its method of community outreach where a local organiser recruits community members to join a literacy class, noting this may be more suitable to smaller country towns.
However, the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation reported that a Yes, I Can! campaign had been successfully run in Campbeltown, New South Wales in 2019, which was the first time the campaign had been rolled out in an urban setting.
26TEN is an initiate that involves individuals, business, community and government working together to improve adult literacy skills in Tasmania. The 26TEN Coalition leads whole-of-community involvement in the initiative, and provides advice to the Tasmanian Minister for Education and Training on progressing government initiatives to improve adult literacy in Tasmania. The name ‘26TEN’ refers to the 26 letters of the alphabet and the 10 digits we use for counting.
26TEN draws on elements of mass campaign approaches to adult literacy, including extensive awareness-raising, and mobilising local community resources and volunteers to tutor people with low literacy in non-formal settings.
26TEN works to establish communities and industries where:
everyone knows about adult literacy and 26TEN
everyone is supported to improve their skills and to help others
everyone communicates clearly in plain English.
The approach draws on experience and research on collective impact models and place-based approaches, which have been shown to work but require long-term investment in order to raise LLND skills.
In 2018-19, independent research into the return on investment of 26TEN was conducted, which found that at least $5.20 of benefit was generated for every dollar spent on 26TEN adult literacy. It estimated that the value created by 26TEN, was worth at least $27.2 million, including $22.3 million of productivity benefits for employers and $4.9 million worth of civic benefits for individuals. The research also found that:
In 2018-19, 860 adult Tasmanians were directly supported by 26TEN grants and the Libraries Tasmania literacy service to improve their literacy.
Libraries Tasmania literacy clients completed an average of 50 literacy sessions. Many observed that each goal they achieved led to new aspirational targets.
Over 80 per cent of Libraries Tasmania literacy clients surveyed said that their opportunities for employment and further education had improved as their level of literacy improved.
Over 90 per cent of Libraries Tasmania literacy clients reported that their lives had improved because of improved functional literacy.
Factors contributing to gaps in provision
A range of factors contribute to gaps in the provision of adult LLND education in Australia. The Committee heard:
there is an unevenness in the diversity of courses and programs being offered across Australia that suit people’s different education needs and goals
there is currently limited capacity in the adult education workforce to meet demand for LLND education
there is a scope for Australian, state and territory governments to jointly develop a new coordinated approach to reducing the number of adults with low LLND skills through diverse providers, programs and courses.
Capacity of current providers to meet demand and the diverse needs of the community
Many Australians with low LLND skills may not want to sign up to a formal course, even if that course was fee free or low fee. For some, the shame and stigma they experienced both during and after leaving school may make them unlikely to undertake an accredited SEE or VET course. For these individuals, an unaccredited course at a local community centre may be a better fit. Some may want to pursue accredited courses once they start developing their LLND skills and see how their choices and opportunities in life are broadened.
RTOs are limited in their capacity to deliver pre-accredited or non-accredited courses because of their funding and compliance arrangements. This means that RTOs would be unable to deliver programs like the Literacy for Life Foundation’s Yes, I Can! campaigns. The Lowitja Institute said that the VET system ‘has a huge amount of bureaucracy around it, if you like, that makes it almost impossible for an RTO to do this kind of work.’
The Committee heard that the Yes, I Can! campaign model should be seen as complementary to VET provision, since one of the main outcomes of a campaign is that a significant number of people who graduate are then able to go on to undertake and complete VET courses.
The Lowitja Institute supported the Yes, I Can! approach to raising LLND skills in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and said that it is ‘vital that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations lead the design and implementation of initiatives to promote literacy and numeracy among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.’
The Lowitja Institute did not support the use of mainstream models, such as outreach by TAFE or VET in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but they also did not view Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned RTOs as the best solution.
NSWALNC said that the ACE sector is able to address diverse community needs for LLND education but requires more support than it currently receives:
It is in the areas of community-based adult basic education programs and community outreach that urgent policy support is required. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated not only the health impacts but also the serious societal impact of adults not being able to access or properly interpret information about symptoms and precautionary steps they needed to take. Programs that address issues that matter to adults such as health literacy, understanding the Australian school system and what their children are learning, tenants’ rights, and workers’ rights would have benefits not only to the adult learners but to their family, community and society at large. Such programs need to be designed organically in response to identified needs, and do not all need to be subjected to the resource-intensive accreditation processes for most other programs in VET. This reduces the administrative burden needed for design and delivery, while increasing the relevance and value for the adult learners.
Similarly, the Reading Writing Hotline said that diversity of provision should be supported, and called for the Australian Government to:
Ensure funding and curriculum addresses both accredited and non-accredited, formal and non-formal training, and the needs of non-jobseekers, including part time and evening classes.
Review SEE guidelines to enable greater flexibility in attendance and progress, more support for those with ‘no capacity to benefit’ including funding for non-accredited courses.
Focus on development of pathway courses that build literacy and numeracy skills for those unable to access VET courses.
The Reading Writing Hotline said that the Australian Government should establish a program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander EAL/D learners that embraces the principles of ‘Indigenous voice co-design, “bothways learning”, and bilingualism where appropriate.’
The Reading Writing Hotline also supported establishing a national distance adult literacy scheme in which an established not-for-profit RTO was engaged to provide distance education consistently in all states and territories. To ensure the scheme is accessible to all, they said paper-based programs should be provided at all levels in addition to online learning.
The NSWALC similarly noted that not all communities will be able to sustain an adult education provider that meets their needs and called for a nationally designed and coordinated distance education program.
Shortage of qualified adult literacy teachers
The capacity of the existing adult education workforce to support demand for LLND education and training is a key area of concern. The Committee heard there is a currently a critical shortage of qualified adult literacy teachers in Australia, and only two adult literacy training courses.
In Western Australia, the Community Adult Literacy Foundation reported that ‘[t]eacher training for those who specialise in adult literacy is virtually non-existent and there is no longer a career path in this field.’
The Committee heard that the existing LLND workforce is ageing, predominately female, and engaged in casualised or insecure work. LLND education is not seen as a viable employment pathway, which has reduced demand for courses offering specialist qualifications. Aspiring adult educators need clear educational pathways, and for existing qualifications to be more accessible and affordable.
The number of university-based undergraduate and post‐graduate qualifications specifically designed for adult literacy and numeracy practitioners has declined since the mid‐1990s. There are currently two available relevant qualifications:
TAE80113 - Graduate Diploma of Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice
TAE80213 - Graduate Diploma of Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Leadership.
The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) reported that the ‘take up of the TAE80113 over recent years has been minimal across Australia’, and the number of VET professionals completing the more popular TAE80113 was 25 in 2016, 20 in 2017 and 20 in 2018. At present, there are only five providers of TAE80113 and two providers of TAE80213. ACER said this ‘data indicates quite clearly that the professional learning opportunities and the career pathways for adult LLND teachers and trainers is stagnating.’
NSWALNC noted that, as postgraduate qualifications, the TAE80113 and TAE80213 courses are full fee paying courses and there are no Australian Government supported places.
ACER expressed concern that the Australian Government discontinued a scholarship program supporting students to gain these qualifications.
The requirement for qualifications to teach adult LLND skills is uneven and not all those in the current workforce may have the required skillset as a result. The qualifications and experience of teachers varies across the variety of providers available, including government programs, VET, libraries and ACE.
The Reading Writing Hotline was concerned that a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment is all that is needed to teach literacy as part of the major Australian Government funded literacy programs like SEE. They stated:
Apart from having no experience in managing a classroom, they have no background in language and no background in psychology and learning. They have no understanding of grammar; they don't know what a noun or a verb is. They've got no understanding of learning theory, of how people acquire language in the first place; no knowledge of specific learning disabilities or cultural factors; not a clue about maths, in most instances. They're just not equipped to teach people to read and write.
ACAL reported that ‘[i]n the past, adult literacy practitioners and those supervising volunteers were required to hold specific qualifications in adult literacy and numeracy.’ ACAL commented:
The knowledge base that an adult literacy and numeracy practitioner requires includes a strong foundation in adult education theories, and contemporary understandings of literacy and numeracy, adult teaching methodologies, the policy contexts of adult literacy and numeracy provision, multi-literacies that recognise and incorporate ongoing changes in everyday needs such as digital, visual, and media literacies, and online and distance good practice. There also needs to be funded opportunities for action learning among practitioners. In the light of universities opting out of this training area, it is necessary for the TAE80113 [Graduate Diploma of Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice] to be reviewed and re-developed or for university provision to be stimulated.
Similarly, NSWALNC said adult LLND educators require more knowledge than current training and education package qualifications deliver because these are designed for the VET sector. As teaching contexts vary between ACE and VET delivery, teachers are required to adapt content and pedagogy to suit learners’ needs.
The Reading Writing Hotline recommended a plan be developed and implemented to build the teaching workforce, and provide enough lead-time to allow universities to plan and re-establish programs. It called for the Australian Government to:
Mandate specialist graduate-level qualifications for all Commonwealth funded programs including SEE
Reintroduce mandated specialist graduate-level qualifications for teaching Foundation Studies Training Package curriculum
Build capacity in regional and remote areas through a range of strategies including scholarships, mentoring, and pathway qualifications
Support the research and design of national Professional Development programs (both accredited and unaccredited) to support upskilling of current teachers to meet new higher standard and to update their professional practice
Make scholarships available for specialist postgraduate qualifications
Restore specialist qualifications such as TAE80113 to VET student loans list.
While there is strong demand for LLND education from adult EAL/D learners from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and migrant or refugee backgrounds, there is a shortage of qualified TESOL educators and lack of consistency in qualifications required by programs that support EAL/D learners.
… where once the field primarily served learners for whom English was their mother tongue, a much larger group of adult literacy and numeracy learners are multilingual. There are extra complexities and cultural sensitivities when working with speakers of Aboriginal English, or with Indigenous learners who speak English as an additional language, yet are not served by ‘migrant’ English programs. Teachers must be afforded the benefit of contemporary understandings of multilingualism and pedagogies that draw on the strengths of multilingual learners.
TAFE Queensland said that overcoming the shortage of qualified TESOL teachers, particularly in rural and regional communities and for AMEP, where many teachers will be leaving the workforce in coming years, ‘needs significant investment.’
ACTA argued ‘[w]here teacher shortages exist, the Government should offer incentives for gaining recognised quality TESOL and adult literacy specialist qualifications, for example, full or partial fee waivers.’
Evidence in Chapter 3 showed that EAL/D learners require qualified TESOL instruction in order to learn effectively. As is the case in the school system, there is no consistent requirement for adult EAL/D learners to receive tuition from a qualified TESOL educator. For example, AMEP currently requires teachers to hold degree or postgraduate qualifications in TESOL for the pre-employment stream but not for the social stream. This is symptomatic of the unevenness of quality TESOL education provision across the variety of programs and courses available.
ACTA advocated for all adult literacy teachers to hold equivalent qualifications in teaching adult literacy, and for all teachers of EAL/D learners to have additional qualifications and experience.
TAFE Queensland discontinued its Graduate Certificate in TESOL, which would qualify somebody to work in AMEP’s pre-employment stream. One of the reasons for the discontinuation of the course was because of low demand. TAFE Queensland described the situation as ‘crazy’ because demand for qualified teachers is very high. TAFE Queensland called for investment in attracting and retaining people in the adult TESOL workforce.
Approaches to teaching and assessment
Chapter 3 examined debates around whether school students should be taught using systematic phonics or whole language approaches, and concerns that many EAL/D learners do not receive instruction from qualified TESOL educators. Similar concerns were raised in relation to adult LLND education and training.
Adult educators employed by RTOs must meet the qualification requirements set by the Standards for RTOs (2015), which were endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments Industry and Skills Council in 2014.
The Committee heard that adult LLND education has largely become a professionalised field and most well-established providers require their literacy and numeracy teachers to have specialist postgraduate qualifications.
According to Ms Andrea McMahon, an adult literacy practitioner who is currently in a senior position with responsibility for leading literacy professional learning in the sector, there is a large body of peer-reviewed research that supports the five elements required for literacy, which include phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. These five elements are underpinned by oral language skills. According to Ms McMahon, many resources, including those provided by the Reading Writing Hotline, instead instruct students to guess at unfamiliar words.
The Reading Writing Hotline commented:
We find that teachers who are university qualified are very familiar with the need for explicit instruction when teaching phonics, phonological awareness, spelling, oracy, vocabulary, as well as the importance of ensuring adult learners have developed comprehension, writing and an understanding of the context and purpose of what they are reading.
Given the huge variety of contexts in which adult literacy is taught and the many levels and needs of learners and their lived experience, teachers need to draw from an enormous range of teaching strategies to suit the learner cohort in question. A one-size-fits-all approach cannot work in adult education.
The Tasmanian Council for Adult Literacy said there is a need to ensure that that ‘national and international research findings on how to teach reading, writing, spelling, and maths are incorporated in the qualifications and promoted and supported to existing practitioners.’
ACTA emphasised that different learners had different starting points that require different learning pathways. ACTA said that, as is currently the case in the school system, there is a lack of a nationally agreed approach to measuring adult English proficiency levels, which means that many EAL/D students are not receiving the support they need and are being assessed as if English was their first language.
ACTA reported that ASQA curriculum requirements in the VET sector are inappropriate for EAL/D learners, and the teacher qualification requirements are too low because they assume trade-related teaching and are at Certificate IV level.
Australian Core Skills Framework
The ACSF provides a framework:
for measuring and assessing the language, literacy and numeracy skills of individuals
for identifying the requirements of typical tasks carried out in the workplace, in the community and within education settings
on which education professionals can base their knowledge and skills, and identify any professional development gaps.
SEE and AMEP programs use the ACSF to assess the progress of participants. The ACSF is also widely used in the VET and ACE sectors.
Concerns were raised about the currency and adequacy of the ACSF, including that it may not be appropriate for EAL/D learners.
The ACSF was first developed in 2006. The 2012 version of the ACSF described five core skills (learning, reading, writing, oral communication and numeracy) at five levels, where Level 1 was the lowest and Level 5 was the highest.
In 2017, a ‘Pre Level 1’ was added to the ACSF to describe the skill levels of learners in the VET sector who had skill levels below ACSF Level 1. The addition of the Pre Level 1 allowed for funding to be allocated for development at this level and for learners’ progress to be recognised. The Pre Level 1 currently exists as a supplement to the main ACSF.
In 2020, a draft Digital Literacy Skills Framework (DLSF) was developed to provide a framework to describe and benchmark digital literacy skills. The framework mirrors the layout of the other skills in the ACSF and incorporates levels from Pre Level 1 to Level 3. The current DLSF draft has been released to allow for trialling.
According to Philippa McLean and Jenni Oldfield, adult language, literacy and numeracy specialists who have worked in the LLND and VET sectors for many years, the ACSF is in need of an update to incorporate the Pre Level 1 supplement and the DLSF into one document to provide users with a complete framework for benchmarking learners’ skills.
ACTA said that the ACSF ‘provides invalid and unreliable assessments of English language learning, because it is predicated on learning literacy by a mother tongue English speaker, and also specifies learning competencies (i.e. outcomes) to the point of absurdity’.
ACTA reported that the implementation of the ACSF in AMEP ‘was chief among the factors that almost destroyed the Program. Qualified and experienced teachers resigned in numbers and enrolments declined.’
ACTA said that a better model of a common curriculum and assessment framework for EAL/D learners is the TAFE NSW Certificate in Spoken and Written English and recommended this be adopted for use in AMEP instead.
A new national strategy required
The Committee heard that there is a need for a new national strategy or agreement to raise adult LLND skills. Governments have three options:
revise the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults (NFSSA) (2012)
develop a new national agreement, as proposed by the Joyce review (2019), to serve as the foundation for inter-jurisdictional cooperation in the VET sector
develop a new national LLND strategy covering schools, VET, workplace programs and adult education, as recommended by the Productivity Commission.
Option 1: Revise the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults
The NFSSA aimed to ‘create a nationally consistent framework in which Australian, state and territory governments could improve the foundation skills of Australian adults through four priority areas for action:
raising awareness and commitment to action
providing high quality learning opportunities and outcomes for adult learners
strengthening foundation skills in the workplace
building the capacity of the education and training workforces to deliver foundation skills.
The Productivity Commission said that the NFSSA did not provide additional funding and was unlikely to have had ‘a significant impact on the number of people with low levels of literacy and numeracy.’
It was broadly recognised that if the NFSSA was to be extended it would require substantial revision. For example, TAFE Queensland called for the NFSSA to be ‘extended and reviewed to support all age groups, and to incorporate the Productivity Commission and Joyce Review recommendations.’
Australia is unique in its relatively recent embrace of the term ‘foundation skills’ and the Committee heard that no other country specifically includes employability skills in their comparable policy documents. There was support for moving away from the term foundation skills and returning to a focus on language, literacy, and numeracy.
Option 2: Develop a new national agreement focussed on delivery by Registered Training Organisations
The Joyce review recommended that Australian, state and territory governments develop a new national agreement to provide for the three main delivery models of LLND training:
standard RTO delivery of foundation-level VET courses
intensive literacy and numeracy short courses (such as AMEP)
dedicated workplace delivered LLND skills programs in partnership between employers and RTOs.
The Joyce review recommended that governments commit, over time, to providing fee free foundation-level education for all Australians who need training to bring their LLND skills up to ACSF Level 2. The Committee heard there is support for this recommendation, but that there are concerns the Joyce review focussed only on the provision of adult LLND education by RTOs through the VET system.
NSWALNC said that while it welcomed the Joyce review recommendations for LLND skills provision, ‘it has been difficult to find spaces to raise those issues and possibilities outside the VET policy framework.’
The Literacy for Life Foundation noted that the Joyce review recommended the development of more RTOs that are owned and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to raise LLND skills, and commented:
While such providers can and do improve outcomes for higher level VET qualifications, the low numbers enrolling in and completing Foundation Skills VET courses with such RTOs will not lead to any significant reduction in the incidence of low to very low English literacy in communities.
Option 3: Develop a new national LLND strategy that supports diversity of provision
The Productivity Commission found that current policy arrangements do not adequately address the funding and coordination of LLND skills education outside of the VET system, and are complex because the Australian, state and territory governments all fund LLND programs. The Productivity Commission said this creates ‘a patchwork of eligibility conditions, performance indicators and reporting requirements that make delivery more difficult for service providers and navigation more difficult for students.’
The Productivity Commission recommended that Australian, state and territory governments jointly develop a strategy to reduce the number of people with low LLND skills (below ACSF Level 2), covering schools, VET, workplace programs and adult education. Specifically, the LLND strategy should:
recognise the varied circumstances of people with low LLND skills
cover the range of LLND training programs across schools, the VET system, workplace programs and community adult education providers
guide and coordinate policies in these areas to improve LLND outcomes
facilitate a staged approach to expanding access to LLND training, using evaluations to inform where the greatest improvements can be achieved at lowest cost.
The strategy should draw on the scoping study into foundation skills commissioned by Skills and Training Ministers in November 2020.
The Productivity Commission explained:
The national strategy would define the divisional responsibilities between the Commonwealth, states and territories. It would help coordinate service delivery and it would ensure accountability through clear goals and public reporting. Separate intergovernmental agreements would provide the detail on how governments would implement the national strategy in each sector. In the case of VET, we've suggested this would be a schedule to the next intergovernmental agreement, replacing the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development. We think a staged approach should be used to expand access to LLND, drawing on evaluations which identify how to tailor service to diverse student groups.
A staged approach to expanding access to LLND education is required because, according to the Productivity Commission, there is a ‘lack of information about the performance and cost of programs and potential bottlenecks, such as the need to build capability in specialist teaching.’
The Productivity Commission also recommended:
As part of the new LLND strategy, governments should identify the VET-specific, high-level objectives and outcomes relating to LLND skills for inclusion in the new intergovernmental agreement on skills. A schedule to the new agreement should contain the following key elements:
governments’ roles and responsibilities, in relation to the different programs
the relationship between jointly-funded programs and programs funded by a single level of government
LLND funding arrangements through both the skills Specific Purpose Payment and any National Partnership Payments with per-student funding retained as the main funding mechanism for most activity delivered through the VET system, but block funding considered for organisations tackling more difficult-to-reach students
reporting and accountability arrangements with respect to these programs, including a performance reporting framework.
There was support for a new national LLND approach that ensures the diverse starting points of adult learners and their individual needs are recognised and met by diverse providers, programs and courses. For example, ACTA supported the Productivity Commission’s recommendations as long as a national strategy does not mean a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy.
The Reading Writing Hotline said a national policy must be developed that:
draws on the expertise of a broad-based advisory group
ensures policy addresses the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
ensures policy addresses the needs of Australians with disability
re-establishes an adult literacy information office to provide resources, advice to government, industry and the literacy sector, and professional development for teachers.
A national policy is needed to acknowledge the full range of these categories of programs and ensure funding is available to support them; adults with literacy and numeracy needs should not be caught in the middle of funding policy struggles between the different jurisdictions.
NSWALNC called for a national policy that enshrines ‘the principle of literacy and numeracy as a basic human right, and access to free and equitable provision of lifelong and lifewide literacy education as a social responsibility.’ NSLWALNC said the priorities of the policy should be:
the renewal of the specialist qualified adult literacy and numeracy workforce that would support research-informed, contemporary design and delivery of programs that are responsive to the literacy and numeracy demands experienced by adults; and
a stable and sustainable intergovernmental funding commitment.
Support for individuals with LLND skills gaps
Evidence in Chapter 2 showed that many Australians with LLND skills gaps have difficulty accessing government services, particularly where forms are required to be filled in and submitted online. Chapter 3 found that the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted this issue and that the shift to online modes of service delivery has disadvantaged many Australians with low LLND skills.
TAFE Queensland expressed concern ‘[w]ith the recommencement of mutual obligation requirements and a move to online service provision, jobseekers are required to self-manage.’ It noted that jobseekers with limited LLND skills have difficulty complying with requirements that demand a certain level of LLND skills, and this ‘reduces the individual’s ability to effectively report on their activities, leaving them more vulnerable to financial penalties.’
TAFE Queensland recommended that ‘[c]ompliance requirements for jobseekers need to adequately take into consideration … LLND skills to ensure that individuals with low levels of LLND [skills] aren’t being penalised because they are unable to navigate online systems.’
The Committee heard that it is vital to ensure that all government websites and printed materials use plain language that is accessible to individuals with low LLND skills, and that adequate services are available to support demand for form filling and literacy mediation, legal assistance, and financial counselling.
Literacy mediation and form filling
Many Australians need assistance to understand the purpose of forms, interpret the instructions, accurately complete all fields, access supporting material, and to scan and upload supporting documentation.
The Committee heard that community organisations fill a service gap between people with low LLND skills and government agencies whose services may be inaccessible to them. However, these organisations are not funded to do this important work meaning that many Australians go without support, or the resources of those organisations are diverted away from their core purposes (for example, providing disability advocacy or legal support).
The impacts of COVID-19 and recent bushfires, floods and droughts have increased demand for literacy mediation and support to fill in forms. The Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre (MNCCLC) reported:
For people with low literacy levels, particularly for those in rural or remote areas, efforts to provide in-person access to services are an important strategy in helping recovery from disaster. A physical presence means that where literacy is a barrier, we are able to ensure that people are aware of their rights in relation to insurance, tenancy and financial hardship. However, this approach does place strain on our service as it comes in addition to our normal service delivery providing civil law help to disadvantaged members of our communities.
MNCCLC recommended that funding be available for proactive, in-person communication by key service providers about help that is available during disaster recovery.
The NSW Council of Social Service provided a copy of a report it released in partnership with the Reading Writing Hotline, Helping Clients Fill in Forms. The report found that many Australians are effectively excluded from accessing services via online forms, particularly in in rural and remote locations, because they have no access to home computers, do not have an email address, cannot afford data, have limited access to public computers due to the closure of public libraries during COVID-19, or have low digital literacy skills.
The report recommended that:
all government forms and resources be accessible for all members of the community using a plain English approach that utilises Easy Read, as set out in the Australian Government Style Manual
all government agencies should mandate the use of Australian Government or relevant state-based guidelines in the design of all forms, and ensure that all digital forms meet the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The report also suggested agencies provide phone support lines for people who are unable to attend service centres for support in filling in forms.
The 26TEN Coalition advocated for all government services to use accessible, plain language in their communications with Australians:
Many people struggle to use things like Services Australia and myGov, yet these things are critical to them working through their lives and their various life events. I think that whole area of clear communication is fundamentally critical, and again I would ask that we mandate the use of plain and easy English to help all Australian citizens to actually participate in their society.
Similarly, MNCCLC recommended the ‘[i]ncreased use of “simple English”, pictograms and other strategies for engaging people with low literacy in civic projects and opportunities.’
MNCCLC also recommended ‘[f]inancial support for programs in the community which help people to complete forms required by Government and to engage in civic processes.’
NSWALNC advocated for a nationwide adult LLND mediation service to be established that complements the Reading Writing Hotline referral and information services with ‘local, on-the-ground community outreach undertaken by adult literacy and numeracy professionals who can mediate and act as an intermediary for individual adults to access the support they need’.
Legal advice and financial counselling
Evidence in Chapter 2 showed that low LLND skills make it difficult to navigate legal and financial issues and mean that many Australians may not be able to fully realise their rights.
The Committee heard the importance of providing face-to-face support for people with LLND skills gaps who are experiencing legal and financial difficulties. For example, MNCCLC noted that ‘there is a lot of jargon and language that goes into a document that can be considered part of a legal process’, and commented:
But there's very little opportunity to translate those unless you have somebody face to face, like a community legal centre or a person with knowledge of the system, who can translate effectively between what the form and the process require and what someone actually needs to do. So it's that translation role, I think, that is really vital and is best done face to face, because, while there are telephone systems that might support somebody's access to literacy programs, for example, that doesn't help them with the immediate need they've got and their immediate requirement to engage with the system.
… the best kinds of legal assistance for people experiencing disadvantage involve wraparound services where legal services try to involve other professionals to support their clients. This can be done either through in-house, nonlegal community workers or through referring to other support services in the community.
Rural Business Tasmania reported that many primary producers have LLND skills gaps that make it difficult to run their businesses:
If they don't have good literacy, they cannot read and understand the documents, the contracts, the insurances, the loan agreements and other undertakings that they may have to give in terms of the operation of their enterprise. Most certainly, if their financial literacy is below par, the same applies to their ability to understand the finances of managing their enterprise. In many cases, we're talking about even small farmers having $2 million, $3 million, $4 million or $5 million worth of equity or investment in their primary production enterprise. So it's substantial and it's concerning.
Rural Business Tasmania referred to its rural financial counselling program, which assists primary producers with their business literacy:
We get referrals from banks, particularly where there are people in debt hardship. We are able to support them in looking at how they build their skills. But we don't have the funding to be able to provide in-depth and intensive support to go through and show them how to do their BAS [Business Activity Statement] … and how to understand a cash flow.
Dear Dyslexic Foundation (DDF) referred to its financial literacy course ‘$’s & Sense’, which is ‘designed to help people understand money and how it works in our society’. The course is structured around the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) Money Smart online resource, and covers ‘earning, spending, budgeting, saving, different types of credit, managing debt, insurances, investing, and superannuation.’
DDF suggested the Be Moneysmart course for teachers and adult educators ‘to gain a greater insight on how to use the resources in their setting.’
There is currently a range of options available for adults to improve their LLND skills, but these are not keeping up with demand in all areas. Various Australian, state and territory government policies and programs have developed in a piecemeal way, often as adjuncts to existing administrative frameworks such as VET. There has been some effort to knit these policies and programs together for the purposes of consistency in service delivery and the measurement of outcomes, for example in the NFSSA, but the effect has been to create a fractured mosaic of services that many people are ineligible to access and may not suit their needs. A range of smaller programs, some government funded, some provided by libraries, some run by the community sector and some entirely reliant on volunteers and donations, have grown to fill the gaps.
There has been some success in government programs supporting adult LLND education in eligible cohorts, in particular AMEP, and the smaller programs have been innovative in delivering a range of workable adult education models but are constrained by resourcing and workforce shortages.
In order to overcome gaps in provision, there are three key elements that need addressing. There needs to be:
a wide range of programs supporting adult LLND education reflecting people's different starting points and varied needs
a renewal of the adult LLND education workforce so there is enough qualified, specialist adult educators to meet current and future demand
a nationally funded LLND policy that clarifies Australian, state and territory government responsibilities across the range of LLND programs available.
A wide range of programs to suit people’s needs
Adults with LLND skills gaps have a broad variety of skill levels, goals, backgrounds and needs, which means that a wide range of programs are required to raise adult LLND skill levels across Australia.
Some adult learners may be ready to undertake a fee free or low fee VET course, while others may need to build their skills and confidence in a small class or with a volunteer tutor. Some may want to improve their LLND skills so they can get a job. Others may see it as a pathway to further education and training with a career as an end goal. Many others may want to read to their children and help them with their homework, better understand health advice during the COVID-19 pandemic, do their shopping, fill in forms to access government services, or overcome any number of lifelong challenges. English may be the first language for some learners, while others do not speak English fluently, if at all, and need specialist TESOL instruction to effectively develop their LLND skills. Others may live in geographically isolated locations and require evidence-based distance education provision.
Current Australian Government programs are mainly focussed on raising people’s LLND skills for the purposes of employment, and this focus is embedded in the national policy framework through the NFSSA. While these programs may be effective for eligible cohorts, they may not be appropriate or desirable for all LLND learners, particularly those with very low skills.
The Australian Government should examine data on the demand for, and outcomes of, the FSFYF, SEE and JobTrainer programs before any decision is taken to extend or expand them.
The Australian Government should use the evaluation of the FSFYF Remote Community Pilots to establish best practice for ongoing and sustainable funding models that build LLND skills in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Committee encourages DESE to consider the four priority reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (Closing the Gap Agreement) carefully in the development of agreements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities if the Australian Government considers there is merit in expanding the FSFYF Remote Community Pilots.
The Committee welcomes many of the significant reforms to AMEP, including removing the cap on tuition hours, and widening access to migrants and refugees who have been in the country for a while but have not yet learned functional or vocational English language and literacy skills. Furthermore, the provision of child care by AMEP is a powerful incentive for many parents to participate in the program.
The Committee notes that the Australian Government has addressed many stakeholder concerns through its revised business model but should be receptive to further feedback on the implementation of recent reforms. Given the size of AMEP, and the significance of the recent changes, it would be prudent to carefully evaluate the effects of the recent reforms in a year’s time.
While the decision to raise the language threshold from functional to vocational English literacy may ensure a better quality education for some, differentiating between the quality of teaching and funding for the two program streams, depending on a person’s goals for their education, may not be in the best interests of all AMEP participants. This policy is again indicative of the Australian Government’s overemphasis on employment outcomes when it comes to resolving LLND skills gaps.
For those migrants and refugees who participate in AMEP for the sole purpose of gaining skills for employment, AMEP may be a stepping stone to employment, employment-focussed programs and VET participation once their skills as EAL/D learners are further developed.
Regardless of whether there need to be two program streams serving different policy goals, the Committee considers that specialist TESOL qualifications should be required to teach both streams. This may mean that funding for social stream participants needs to be increased.
An evaluation should consider whether there has been any change in EAL/D learning progression for program participants since AMEP was split into two streams.
The Committee recommends that, by March 2023, the Australian Government:
ensure that all Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) participants are taught by specialist teachers with degree or post-graduate qualifications in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
commence an evaluation of the recent AMEP reforms that considers whether there have been any changes in learning outcomes for program participants since AMEP was split into two funding streams.
The Committee has considered the needs of EAL/D learners more broadly, which vary according to an individual’s education and literacy skills in their first language. Many adult educators are ill-equipped to identify these different starting points and then bring out the best in individual adult EAL/D learners. While there should be a requirement that all RTOs provide EAL/D learners with specialist TESOL instruction, this should be phased in to allow for the workforce to be developed sufficiently to meet increased demand.
The Committee is concerned that ASQA curriculum requirements for VET and the ACSF may not be appropriate for EAL/D learners in AMEP and other accredited courses. It may be the case that other models such as the TAFE NSW Certificate in Spoken and Written English should be adopted for EAL/D learners instead. The Australian Government should consult with ASQA, AMEP providers, and TESOL and adult education specialists on options for improving curriculum and assessment requirements for adult EAL/D learners in accredited courses.
The Committee is also concerned that the adult education workforce does not currently have a single consolidated document to use for benchmarking LLND levels. The ACSF should be updated to include the Pre Level 1 supplement and incorporate the DLSF.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government:
by March 2024, ensure that all Registered Training Organisations provide English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) learners with instruction from specialist teachers with degree or post-graduate qualifications in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
by March 2023, conduct a review of options for improving curriculum and assessment requirements for adult EAL/D learners in accredited courses, in consultation with the Australian Skills Quality Authority, Adult Migrant English Program providers, and TESOL and adult education specialists
by March 2023, update the Australian Core Skills Framework to include the Pre Level 1 supplement and incorporate the Digital Literacy Skills Framework to ensure users have a single reference document.
The Committee strongly supports the ongoing work of the Reading Writing Hotline and welcomes the provision of additional funding by the Australian Government in the 2021-22 Budget.
The Committee recognises the importance of both the VET and ACE sectors in delivering accredited education and training that supports learning and employment across the Australian economy. However, there are gaps in provision across Australia for accredited LLND courses, particularly outside of the major cities.
Demand for informal, unaccredited and entry level LLND education is not currently being met, again this is particularly a problem in regional and remote locations. At the same time, there are community organisations delivering vital adult LLND education programs and courses and are receiving no government funding at all. The Committee believes we can do better as a nation than to rely so heavily on the fundraising and benevolence of volunteers, and calls for the ACE sector to be supported consistently in all jurisdictions.
The Committee recognises the benefits of providing quality LLND education to young Australians and adults in custody, and sees a need for greater consistency in the delivery of best practice pedagogy, assessments and data collection in corrections education.
The Literacy for Life Foundation is an outstanding success story, and the Committee considers that sustainable, ongoing funding should be provided to the Literacy for Life Foundation to deliver Yes, I Can! campaigns in more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Committee recommends that, by March 2023, the Australian Government establish a sustainable, ongoing funding model for the Literacy for Life Foundation to deliver Yes, I Can! campaigns in more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Renewing the adult LLND education workforce
There is currently limited capacity to support demand for LLND education and this must be addressed if access to is to be widened. There is a shortage of qualified adult LLND teachers because of a lack of suitable courses in some areas; limited career pathways for adult LLND teachers; and a lack of support for aspiring specialist teachers to receive a postgraduate adult education qualification through scholarships and Australian Government supported VET and university places.
The shortage of adult LLND teachers, including TESOL specialists has compounding negative effects on the Australian economy. Every TESOL specialist that is missing from the workforce disadvantages many EAL/D learners. As a consequence, these learners may not progress their English to the point where they can get a job or undertake further education and training. The Committee therefore recommends a range of measures be urgently deployed to renew the adult LLND education workforce.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the state and territory governments to develop and implement a national strategy by March 2023, to renew the adult language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy (LLND) education workforce.
The national workforce strategy must be developed with input from all sectors currently involved in the education and training of adult LLND educators and delivery of adult LLND education, and provide for:
clear career pathways for aspiring LLND educators
updates to the Standards for Registered Training Organisations to reflect best practice in LLND education and the Australian Government’s renewed emphasis on systematic phonics instruction in schools
the strengthening of existing specialist adult LLND and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) courses, and encouragement of vocational education and training (VET) providers and universities to offer these and other specialist courses
scholarships and fee support for VET and university students to undertake specialist adult LLND and TESOL courses
subsidised access to professional development and initial training programs with multiple entry points that build skills and knowledge, and support pathways to full qualifications, as appropriate.
Developing a national LLND strategy
A national strategy for raising adult LLND skills needs to be developed, dealing with low LLND skills as a specific issue, rather than as an adjunct to other policy frameworks. A national strategy needs to go beyond renewing the existing NFSSA and implementing the recommendations of the Joyce review to meet the diverse needs of the community. The input of all sectors currently providing adult LLND education should guide the strategy.
In progressing a national strategy, there is a need to leverage the successes of initiatives with a strong evidence base and community support. In particular, the Committee recognises that the Literacy for Life Foundation’s Yes, I Can! approach works because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are partners in the delivery of the literacy campaigns.
Similarly, 26TEN brings together government, community and business to improve LLND skills in Tasmania and has a focus on raising awareness and reducing stigma. In Chapter 3, the Committee recommended there be a national campaign to raise awareness in the community about the challenges people with low LLND skills experience, the benefits of improving LLND skills, where people can receive support and the education options available to them. This should form a key part of the national strategy.
A national strategy must also:
Establish a national adult LLND distance education scheme.
Ensure there is consistency in the delivery of best practice pedagogy, assessment and data collection in corrections education.
Ensure all programs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are developed and delivered in ways that are consistent with the Closing the Gap Agreement.
Recognise that linguistically diverse learners have different starting points and therefore have different needs. EAL/D learners require explicit EAL/D pedagogy delivered by qualified TESOL educators to develop strong English literacy. Consistency in applying culturally and linguistically appropriate, evidence-based curriculum, pedagogy and assessments for EAL/D learners will ensure the best outcomes for all adults from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and migrant and refugee backgrounds.
Presently, several organisations such as the Reading Writing Hotline are providing resources and advice on approaches to LLND delivery. The Committee sees merit in establishing an adult LLND information hub to improve the dissemination of best practice resources, to advise government, employers, RTOs and ACE providers, and to provide professional development for teachers and volunteers.
The Committee recommends that, by March 2023, the Australian, state and territory governments jointly develop and, by March 2024, implement a national language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy (LLND) strategy based on the model recommended by the Productivity Commission and the recommendations presented in this report, ensuring that:
input from all sectors currently involved in the delivery of adult education guides the strategy
a national adult LLND distance education scheme is established
adult and community education is supported to meet demand in all jurisdictions, including by:
building the capability of the sector to deliver sustainable non-accredited LLND programs through ongoing professional development delivered by Adult Learning Australia
funding the sector to deliver sustainable non-accredited LLND programs
resourcing and supporting the sector and relevant peak bodies to work with industry and business to co-design and deliver customised workplace adult literacy programs
there is consistency in the delivery of best practice pedagogy, assessment and data collection in corrections education
the diversity of learner’s starting points and needs is recognised and supported
all programs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are developed and delivered in ways that are consistent with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap
an adult LLND information hub is established to support the delivery of best practice LLND education across all sectors
the strategy reflects a policy commitment by the Australian Government to inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning, in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal Four.
Supporting individuals with LLND skills gaps
The Committee is concerned that community organisations, such as community legal centres, are filling a gap that exists between government agencies and Australians with low LLND skills for whom many services are inaccessible. These organisations are inadequately funded to address community need for support with literacy mediation and form filling. The result is that many Australians go without key services, or the resources of community organisation are diverted away from their core purposes.
To better enable Australians with LLND skills gaps to access key services, there needs to be:
Safeguards in place to ensure that mutual obligation requirements for the JobSeeker Payment do not penalise Australians with low LLND skills for being unable to navigate online systems.
A focus on providing information in plain, easy to read formats, and telephone numbers that people can ring if they cannot attend a physical service centre.
Funding for organisations to provide literacy mediation and support with form filling. The Reading Writing Hotline is well placed to maintain a database of these services and to provide advice to Australians on where they can get help.
Proactive and accessible information provided by Australian Government agencies about help that is available during disaster recovery. Funding for in-person communication may be required for particular cohorts.
The Committee recommends that, by March 2023, the Australian Government ensure that:
there are safeguards in place to ensure that mutual obligation requirements for the JobSeeker Payment do not penalise Australians with low language, literacy, numeracy and digital literacy (LLND) skills for being unable to navigate online systems
all Australian Government forms and resources use a plain English approach that utilises Easy Read as set out in the Australian Government Style Manual
all Australian Government agencies mandate the use of Australian Government guidelines in the design of all forms, and ensure that all digital forms meet the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
all Australian Government agencies provide telephone support lines for people who are unable to attend physical service centres
the Australian Government establish funding for community organisations to assist Australians with low LLND skills with form filling and literacy mediation
the Reading Writing Hotline is appropriately resourced to maintain a database of form filling and literacy mediation services, and to provide advice to Australians with low LLND skills on where they can access these services
relevant Australian Government agencies provide proactive and accessible information about help that is available during disaster recovery
adult and community education providers be supported to reconnect learners who have become disengaged due to pandemics and natural disasters, such as floods and bushfires, particularly in rural and regional areas, through targeted community-based education programs and access to appropriate resources to cope with ongoing challenges.
The Committee notes that, while many adult LLND educators may not be trained in financial counselling, they can still assist clients with their financial literacy using ASIC’s Money Smart online resource, including the Be Moneysmart resource.