Other Questions. - Adult Education.

Willie Penrose


6 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science his proposals to meet the commitment given in An Agreed Programme for Government, to further expand adult literacy services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21751/02]

I will expand the adult literacy service as resources become available. Some €93.5 million was committed to the service in the National Development Plan, 2000-06, with a target of reaching 113,000 clients. Investment in this area has increased 16 fold since 1997 and is already ahead of the levels provided for in the national development plan. The funds are being used to expand the scale and scope of provision, improve outreach and referral links and promote flexibility and quality. My priority is to continue to build on this work as far as resources allow and to continue to expand the range of provision to include family learning, workplace learning, provision for special needs and for those for whom English is not the mother tongue, as well as optimising the use of TV so that people can access help in the privacy of their own homes.

In 2000, the first ever TV series "Read Write Now" attracted an average weekly audience on 155,000. In 2001, an average of 235,000 people per week availed of literacy assistance in their homes through watching the second literacy series. A third series is currently being broadcast. In all cases, the TV programme has been backed up by free learner support packs and a freephone helpline provided by the National Adult Literacy Agency. Videos of the first and second series have been sent to literacy schemes, training centres, public libraries and video outlets. This strategy will be built on into the future. In addition, an innovative workplace literacy programme, Return to Learning, following a pilot scheme last year, has been introduced nationwide.

The adult literacy budget has been increased from just over €1 million prior to 1997 to €16.460 million in the current year. Participation in VEC literacy schemes has been increased from 5,000 in 1997 to over 24,000 during the same period.

The Minister referred to expanding the programme as resources become available. Will the resources become available in 2003, because there is real concern that the adult literacy programme might be slowed down because of the general cutbacks? Will the entire budget allocated of €16.460 million be spent this year?

I put the Deputy's mind at rest because I am pleased to say that the whole question of adult literacy and community education has been very well catered for in the Estimates. It reflects the concerns of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and I in this regard, including the priority of the Government. The adult literacy and community education subhead is increased from €24.542 million in 2002 to €27.28 million in 2003. This should enable us to increase the adult literacy investment from approximately €1.5 million to €17.9 million, with the balance being used for the carry-over costs of the new work of community education facilitators. That is an increase of €1.5 million which we are looking forward to using in the best possible way. Organisations such as NALA asked to ensure this matter will be prioritised by Government, and this is reflected in the Estimates.

I congratulate the Ministers for the work done to-date. Obviously a lot has been done, but a lot more needs to be done. Given the sharp rise in racism in our society, what specific funding will be spent on the education of those whose mother tongue is not English? Obviously in terms of helping people to integrate better, they will need a good command of the English language. Will this be a priority in the coming 12 months?

What value for money audits have been carried out in this area? Is the Minister of State sure she is getting value for money spent and that it is not being eaten up by administration? What has been done in regard to computer literacy for adults and older people.

On the necessity for helping those whose mother tongue is not English, this is one of the Government's priorities in the area of family learning, workplace learning and provision for special needs. I referred to the TV series which shows that a tremendous number of people have been able to avail of this programme in the privacy of their own home. This has created a great deal of awareness. The free helpline and pack which is available has encouraged people to come forward for further help and assistance in this regard. Learning in the workplace is something we want to encourage.

The Minister of State appears to be saying that some of the money for next year was actually allocated for this year for the community education facilitators who are only now being appointed. When will the ministerial order for the adult learning council be signed? Will extra money be allocated next year? I hope there will be a new budget for next year as there is a great need in the whole area of adult literacy and adult education.

In response to Deputy Stanton regarding value for money, any money invested in this programme has been used very well by organisations such as NALA and Aontas. Since I was given this brief, I have had an opportunity to attend different conferences run by both organisations. I believe the money is very well spent and the take-up in this regard has greatly improved. As I said in my initial reply, we are talking about people who have taken an interest in the programme. Participation in VEC literacy schemes, for example, has increased from 5,000 in 1997 to 24,000 during the same period. It is obvious that this is value for money. I attended the meeting that took place at the Adult Learning Council. It will be very helpful because it brings together in one forum all the facets of adult learning. The people concerned have already begun their work and we have discussed our priorities with them. They will also be advising me and the Minister, which will be helpful for setting targets.

Is there any money, or is the money rolled over from last year?

As the Deputy will be aware, there is to be a definite increase from €24.542 million in 2002 to €27.28 million in 2003. Certainly, the accounting methods suggested by the Deputy could not be operated on.