Many Australian adults don't have literacy skills needed for everyday life

Tailoring learning can help improve literacy skills

Imagine a world where letters and words are reduced to nothing but lines on a page, devoid of all meaning.

Literacy is a part of our day-to-day life - from heading to the shops to reading a bus schedule - we don't often think about what it would mean if we didn't have those basic skills. According to the OECD, 40 to 50 per cent of adults in Australia don't have the literacy skills needed for the basics of everyday life.

As an educator with more than 30 years experience I've seen how people define themselves by their inability to read and it has huge repercussions for their self-esteem.

But as our society becomes increasingly reliant on digital communication - from banking to GP appointments - we're increasingly confronted with the reality many in our community are at risk of being left out and left behind. Today we know one of the main reasons people don't complete a higher education degree is because of literacy challenges. And that's even if they persevere and make it that far.

It's really disappointing considering students don't go to university or TAFE to learn to read. Students enroll in coursework to learn crucial skills to enter the workforce and contribute to society. While it's been a long-held tenet of language acquisition that literacy learning begins in the early years, it's now become more common knowledge, as the internet, social and traditional media shine a spotlight on the issue.

You don't have to look far to see that today 20 per cent of students in primary school struggle with the literacy requirements. according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. So after months of remote and online learning, we need to look at how we can address these literacy issues today, to prevent the gap becoming wider.

For all its challenges, the pandemic has provided us with new insights on how different students adapt and respond to new learning environments. For instance, for many students who struggle with literacy, the move to remote, online learning environments has given them a greater sense of agency, and removed the pressure of keeping up with others. They can learn at their own pace, and use technology to support their reading and writing challenges. Tools such as Read&Write for example, helps kids decipher unfamiliar words in real-time, by having them read aloud through a computer, and sentences are used to help aid context and meaning. It's akin to other real-world accommodations such as wheelchair ramps. Accessibility applies to the digital realm just as it does the physical one.

  • Greg O'Connor, head of education at Texthelp, Asia-Pacific.
This story Tailoring learning can help improve literacy skills first appeared on The Canberra Times.