On behalf of ETBI, I thank the committee for the opportunity to contribute to its deliberations and discussions on adult literacy. The delivery of literacy programmes by ETBs is guided by the SOLAS further education and training strategy of 2014 to 2019, inclusive, which outlines a framework and implementation plan to support economic development and increase social inclusion. Historically, the term "literacy" was a measurement of reading and writing, but this has evolved a great deal over time. It is now considered in a much broader context and includes, at a minimum, numeracy, as well as digital literacy.
As for the benefits of improving literacy, in addition to improved reading, writing, numeracy and ICT skills, substantial Irish and international research has shown that participation in adult literacy provision has a positive personal and social impact on individuals and communities. Learners from ETB programmes have provided a wealth of evidence on the benefits they have experienced by participating in adult literacy programmes. The ETBI-SOLAS-NALA national adult literacy awareness campaign, which takes place every September, has developed video clips, which are available on takethefirststep.ie. The awareness campaign has proven to be one of the most successful methods of promoting the benefits of returning to education for those with low levels of literacy.
The barriers to participation in further education have been found to include low confidence and self-esteem, negative experiences of education, physical barriers such as childcare and transport, the suitability of courses, and a lack of awareness of further education and training opportunities.
The adult literacy programmes provided by ETBs are primarily focused on learning outcomes at the national framework of qualifications levels 1 to 3, inclusive, with progression options to higher levels, as well as unaccredited options.
The priority cohorts to target for literacy programmes are adults with primary education or less and whose literacy and numeracy skills do not equate to at least level 3 on the national framework of qualifications, NFQ, and adults who may have upper second level education but whose literacy and numeracy skills are still less than or equivalent to NFQ level 3. Within those two cohorts there are individuals and groups who experience particular and acute barriers to participation. Those groups include people who are long-term unemployed, lone parents, Travellers, migrants, older people, people with disabilities, disadvantaged women and men particularly those living in rural isolation, people who are homeless and ex-offenders.
Education and training board, ETB, adult literacy programmes provide a core service of group literacy and numeracy in the main and information and communications technology, ICT, tuition. That provision is available during the daytime and evenings. We also provide family literacy, English for speakers of other languages, ESOL, and skills for work provision for people who are in employment and who have low levels of literacy. Typically, that provision would take place in either further education and training centres belonging to ETBs or community settings. The link to the community is important. Tuition is typically provided to groups ranging between four and eight learners for up to eight hours a week. It includes intensive literacy, a themed literacy option and supports such as study skills and educational guidance. We offer skills assessment to everybody who is coming into the programmes, both accredited and unaccredited. Tuition is then based on what that assessment shows. More recently, we have provided tailored literacy support to apprenticeship programmes because evidence shows many apprentices struggle with the maths and literacy dimensions of their respective apprenticeship programmes. The demand for those supports has risen rapidly in 2019.
Dóibh siúd atá ag iarraidh feabhas a chur ar a gcuid scileanna trí Ghaeilge, tá an togra 'Breacadh' againn agus tá sin lonnaithe i nGaillimh. Déanann an togra sin acmhainní a fhorbairt d'fhoghlaimeoirí agus do theagascóirí.
The programmes are delivered by highly skilled experienced staff who have access to ongoing professional development nationally and locally which includes diversity and other training. The staff would be very conscious and sensitive to the challenges learners with low levels of literacy are experiencing in coming into programmes.
There were 59,000 beneficiaries in adult literacy provision in ETBs in 2018 and there were 58,000 up to the end of 2019. It seems reasonable to assume that more than the number last year will avail of the services this year. ETBs offer an extensive range of programme options. There are group tuition, accredited programmes and themed literacy and digital literacy programmes. We are aware there is a need for accessible and clear information as a driver for people with low levels of literacy and the information would be proofed in terms of plain English. We have open days, information sessions, radio interviews with existing learners, social media usage and so on. We still get many people participating in our programmes through word of mouth and through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. We used to get women referring both themselves and men but that has changed slightly. That is as a consequence of groups such as men's sheds and so on.
Lack of childcare supports and easy access to transport, particularly in rural areas, can be barriers to participation. Lack of clarity on Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection benefits and retention of them can also be a barrier. Considerable face-to-face work is required to encourage people both to participate in literacy programmes and to retain people in them, and that is time consuming.