Cerys Furlong says it is not only the young who lack basic literacy skills.
The adult population is growing, and is set to continue to increase over the next fifty years; there are already 25,000 people in Wales aged 90 or above. There are 1.2 million people in Wales aged over 50. As the pace of change continues, individuals are going to work longer and change jobs more frequently. Access to skills and learning therefore is vital for people to stay healthy, productive and happy in both work and retirement.
This week on Click on Wales…
This week on Click on Wales we’re looking at literacy in a modern Wales. Over the next five days we’ll be featuring pieces from NIACE Cymru, Save the Children and Literature Wales among others.
Adult learning – sometimes called lifelong learning, or continuing education – covers all learning beyond the age of compulsory education, and particularly over the age of 18.
It covers a wide range of learning, including learning in and for work, self-directed and personal learning, and learning for social confidence. It includes adult community learning, apprenticeships, work-based learning and higher education, delivered in a variety of settings, and both accredited and non-accredited courses.
The point about learning is that it should enable individuals to understand the choices you have, and to influence those choices in the first place. This might be the choice to learn, to enable you to access a better career, or to support your children with their own learning. But also more generally about understanding the change around us (the switch to online banking, using a smart phone, or filling in a form), and adapting to that change. Finally Learning should also be about empowering people to shape change for themselves.
However, at present, investment in skills and adult education in Wales is too heavily focused on young adults, to the detriment of people aged 25 and over. Investment in full time higher education, dominated by 18-24 year olds, has been shown to be a sound investment, but alternatives must be funded and widely available.
Across the UK, around 1 in 6 adults still struggle with reading and writing; the latest Welsh stats (2010) show that 12% of the Welsh population have not reached Level 1 of basic literacy skills – a problem that is particularly acute in over 55s, where 15% of the population are below Level 1. Basic literacy is still the skill employers cite as being of concern when they are recruiting (CBI / Pearson Education and Skills Survey, 2014).
We must also consider the position of digital skills in a modern Wales. Welsh Government has not entered Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)– the international comparator for adult skills – and as such, there is no Welsh evidence base on this. However, stats from England and Northern Ireland’s PIAAC assessments suggest that around half of adults lack the basic skills to effectively use a computer.
Individuals, as communities, and collections of citizens, of whatever size and make up need learning to take control of our lives. Children learn to read, and this equips them into adulthood to read to learn, whether that be numeracy, digital competency or any other skills. When adults don’t have sound literacy skills, their opportunities are greatly diminished.
Literacy, numeracy and digital skills underpin adult learning, enabling adults to participate and contribute fully in society, and support economic growth. NIACE Cymru believes in widening access to these skills, particularly amongst under-represented groups in society, as well as improving the range and quality of provision available to all adults.