The Problem of Low Adult Literacy and Numeracy Levels
LN levels have been on the decline for possibly 20 years or more in NZ. Why do we have this problem with low adult literacy and numeracy? In other words, how did we get here?
What are the main kaupapa contributing to this? What about the effects of COVID-19? I’ve written about this before, but let’s update and unpack this kaupapa in a bit more detail:
Kaupapa contributing to poor adult literacy and numeracy levels
The decline in adult literacy and numeracy levels in New Zealand has been a longstanding issue. There are several factors that have contributed to this problem, including:
- Historical Inequities: New Zealand has a history of institutional discrimination, which has contributed to intergenerational poverty and lower educational attainment for Māori and Pacific communities. This has resulted in disparities in literacy and numeracy outcomes for these groups.
- Changing Workforce: The nature of work has changed significantly over the past few decades, with an increasing demand for digital literacy and numeracy skills. However, the education system has been slow to adapt to these changes, resulting in a gap between the skills required in the workforce and the skills possessed by workers.
- Quality of Education: There are concerns about the quality of education in New Zealand, with some studies indicating that students are not receiving the necessary support and resources to develop strong literacy and numeracy skills.
- Socioeconomic Factors: Low levels of literacy and numeracy are often linked to poverty, unemployment, and low levels of education. These factors can affect an individual’s ability to access educational opportunities and resources.
- Language and Cultural Barriers: New Zealand is a multicultural society, and many individuals may face language and cultural barriers that limit their ability to develop literacy and numeracy skills. This can be particularly challenging for immigrants, refugees, and individuals from non-English speaking backgrounds.
More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on literacy and numeracy levels in New Zealand. School closures and disruptions to education have affected students’ learning outcomes, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The economic impact of the pandemic has also increased the likelihood of job losses and financial hardship, which can have a negative impact on literacy and numeracy levels.
To address this issue, it is essential for government to invest in education and training programs that target disadvantaged communities, support students in developing digital literacy and numeracy skills, and address the historical inequities that have contributed to disparities in literacy and numeracy outcomes.
Additionally, there needs to be a concerted effort to support individuals who continue to be impacted by COVID-19 to access education and training opportunities to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.
Are declining literacy and numeracy levels the government’s fault?
It is important to acknowledge that the government plays a significant role in shaping policies and investments that can impact literacy and numeracy outcomes in New Zealand. Therefore, it is fair to say that the government shares some responsibility for the state of adult literacy and numeracy in the country.
However, it is also important to note that low literacy and numeracy levels are complex issues that cannot be attributed to any one factor or entity alone. Addressing this issue requires a collaborative effort between government, community organisations, and the education sector.
Therefore, while the government does play a role in shaping policies and investments that can impact literacy and numeracy outcomes, it is not solely responsible for the issue. Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive, coordinated effort from all stakeholders involved.
What can vocational tutors and others do about low adult literacy and numeracy levels?
A lot of this seems outside of the control of ordinary individuals. What are some things that adult educators can do? Specifically, what can vocational tutors do about any of this?
While addressing the issue of low adult literacy and numeracy requires a concerted effort from multiple stakeholders, adult educators and vocational tutors can play a significant role in improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for their students. Here are a few things that adult educators and vocational tutors can do:
- Develop Learner-Centred Approaches: Adult educators should adopt a learner-centred approach that recognises the diverse learning needs and backgrounds of their students. This can involve tailoring instruction to meet the specific needs of individual learners, using real-world examples and scenarios, and providing opportunities for hands-on learning.
- Use Digital Technologies: Given the increasing demand for digital literacy skills in the workforce, adult educators should incorporate digital technologies into their teaching practices. This can involve using online resources, digital tools, and virtual learning environments to enhance students’ digital literacy and numeracy skills.
- Build Strong Relationships: Building strong relationships with students can help to create a positive learning environment and foster student engagement. Adult educators should take the time to get to know their students, understand their learning needs, and provide personalised support and guidance.
- Provide Supportive Feedback: Providing constructive and supportive feedback can help to build students’ confidence and motivation to learn. Adult educators should provide regular feedback that recognises students’ strengths and identifies areas for improvement.
- Address Barriers to Learning: Adult educators should be aware of the barriers to learning that their students may face, including language and cultural barriers, and provide support to overcome these challenges. This can involve providing language support, cultural awareness training, and resources to address socioeconomic barriers to learning.
By implementing these strategies, adult educators and vocational tutors can help to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for their students and contribute to the wider effort to address the issue of low adult literacy and numeracy in New Zealand.
What are some of the broader issues that correlate with low adult literacy and numeracy levels?
There are a range of broader issues that correlate with low adult literacy and numeracy levels, for example, we may find poor housing and low literacy together. Here are some other examples of broader issues that are often correlated with low adult literacy and numeracy:
- Health Inequities: Poor health outcomes and inequities in healthcare are often linked to low levels of literacy and numeracy. For example, individuals with low levels of literacy may have difficulty understanding healthcare information, which can lead to poorer health outcomes.
- Unemployment and Low Wages: There is often a link between low levels of literacy and numeracy and unemployment or underemployment. Individuals with low levels of literacy and numeracy may struggle to find work, and those who do often earn lower wages than their peers.
- Social Isolation: Low levels of literacy and numeracy can also contribute to social isolation and exclusion. Individuals with low levels of literacy and numeracy may have difficulty communicating with others, accessing information, and participating in social activities.
- Criminal Justice System Involvement: There is often a link between low levels of literacy and numeracy and involvement in the criminal justice system. Individuals with low levels of literacy and numeracy may struggle to navigate legal processes and understand their rights, which can contribute to their involvement in the criminal justice system.
- Financial Insecurity: Individuals with low levels of literacy and numeracy may struggle to manage their finances effectively, which can contribute to financial insecurity and debt.
Addressing low adult literacy and numeracy outcomes requires a holistic approach that takes into account these broader issues, and recognises the complex interplay between them. If we can address these broader issues, it is possible we can create more equitable and inclusive communities that support the development of strong literacy and numeracy skills.
Is there a gender gap in low adult literacy and numeracy levels?
Here are another couple of questions that no one is asking. Who gets it worse when it comes to low adult literacy and numeracy levels? Women or men? And if there is a gender gap in literacy and numeracy levels then why?
There is evidence to suggest that women tend to have lower levels of literacy and numeracy than men, although the size of the gender gap varies depending on the country and the specific measures used to assess literacy and numeracy.
For example, data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) – a large-scale survey of adult literacy and numeracy skills conducted by the OECD – suggests that women generally score lower than men on tests of numeracy, while the gender gap in literacy is less pronounced.
The reasons for the gender gap in literacy and numeracy are complex and multifaceted, and can vary depending on cultural and societal factors. Some possible explanations for the gap include:
- Cultural biases: There may be cultural biases that discourage girls and women from pursuing education or that limit their access to educational opportunities.
- Gender roles: Traditional gender roles may limit women’s opportunities to develop literacy and numeracy skills, particularly in contexts where women are expected to focus on domestic duties and child-rearing.
- Economic factors: Women may face greater economic barriers to education and may be more likely to work in low-paying jobs that offer limited opportunities for skills development.
- Discrimination: Women may face discrimination in educational and employment settings that limit their opportunities for skills development.
Also, it is important to note that the gender gap in literacy and numeracy is not universal and may vary depending on the context. Efforts to address low levels of adult literacy and numeracy should take into account the specific needs and experiences of both women and men in the target population.
If you interested in this kaupapa, you may also be interested in this and this.