Too many Australians leave school with language, literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy (LLND) skills gaps that limit opportunities and life choices. At the same time, many older Australians are finding that the skills they have relied on in the past are not keeping pace with technology. This inquiry examined the importance of developing strong LLND skills, overcoming barriers to learning, and the ability of existing adult education programs and providers to meet demand.
Improving adult LLND skills in Australia will help individuals find meaningful employment, earn higher wages, and achieve personal fulfillment, and make Australia a more prosperous, competitive economy. In addition to these economic benefits, there are many other reasons why adults want to improve their LLND skills. Some may want to better support their children’s education or better understand health advice to safeguard their individual and/or family’s wellbeing. Others may want to become more involved in their communities, be able to access services that are increasingly available online or make more informed legal and financial choices.
The Committee found that poor education outcomes are strongly correlated with poverty and geographic isolation. There is a need to address factors that contribute to low LLND skills across all educational systems, at every stage of a person’s life journey.
While Australia aspires to a world class school system, which provides universal access to quality education, the reality is that too many children are falling through the cracks. There are children in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who have no pathway to a meaningful secondary school education without leaving their families for boarding school, and there are communities where schooling is only provided two days a week. Many children do not speak English outside of the classroom but are taught and then assessed as if they do. The experience of shame and stigma associated with students’ perceived failures, acts as a barrier to seeking support, and engaging in school and in further education and training later in life.
There are currently a range of accredited programs available for adults to improve their LLND skills, including Australian Government programs focussed on employment readiness and vocational education and training. However, adults with low LLND do not necessarily want to sign up for accredited courses. Instead, working with a volunteer tutor or attending a small class at a neighbourhood centre can help build their skills and confidence, which may then lead to employment and further education and training opportunities. However, the adult and community education sector is significantly under-resourced and is currently unable to meet the high demand for adult LLND education. There is also a critical shortage of qualified adult literacy teachers in Australia.
The Committee agreed with the Productivity Commission that there needs to be a holistic national LLND strategy, which provides a broad range of adult educational offerings to meet varied needs and which clarifies jurisdictional responsibilities across the range of programs on offer.
The Committee has made 15 recommendations which address key areas of reform to improve adult LLND skills, including:
support for whole of community and family LLND education programs for socially and economically marginalised Australians
improved data collection to drive evidence-based policy and outcomes
greater support for Australians with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) such as dyslexia
campaigns to raise awareness of SLDs, the challenges people with low LLND skills face, and where people can access support
recognition that English as an Additional Language or Dialect learners require the support of qualified Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) educators to maximise their educational achievement
an increase in the number of specialist adult literacy teachers and TESOL educators
support for measures that raise English LLND skills in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that are consistent with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, such as the Literacy for Life Foundation’s delivery of Yes, I Can! adult literacy campaigns
a range of measures to ensure Australians with low LLND skills can access vital services.
I would like to thank each of my parliamentary colleagues on the Standing Committee on Employment, Education, and Training, together with the secretariat staff. I also want to thank the individuals and organisations who contributed submissions and appeared at public hearings to inform this inquiry, particularly those who did so on a volunteer basis.
Mr Andrew Laming MP