Opinion Editorial

Sunday 16 June 2019

Literacy survey makes for a disturbing read

In a year when the State is spending €8.514bn on education, the results of the OECD Adult Skills Survey have to be a grave disappointment to many. Of course this survey is not based on a given year, but a snapshot of the entire population. But in a country which prides itself on its verbal and literary prowess and as an attractive location for employers looking for a well-educated workforce, it cannot make comfortable reading for parents, teachers or Government.

Like all statistical reports, the OECD survey is open to various interpretations, but the bottom line is the disturbing finding that in a survey of 6,000 people aged from 16 to 65, Irish adults performed significantly below average for literacy, numeracy and ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks.

While we have been traditionally good at producing top-class writers and talkers, this survey shows one in six Irish adults are at or below Level 1 on a five-level literacy scale, a level at which they may be unable to understand basic written information.

"This survey challenges how we think about skills," said Inez Bailey, Director of the National Adult Literacy Agency. "It provides compelling evidence that mass participation in mainstream education is not sufficient to produce strong literacy and numeracy skills for life."

This can only mean that many people are emerging from second-level education without proficiency in reading, writing and arithmetic.

The Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, was encouraged that the number of adults with low literacy levels has decreased since the last survey. "However, our overall performance on literacy, but particularly numeracy, is not as strong as I would have liked," he conceded.

However, the employers group IBEC was scathing about the results of the survey of 24 countries, which rated Ireland 17th in terms of literacy, 16th in terms of numeracy and 18th at problem solving.

More alarming is that the performance of young people, those in the 16 to 24 age category, was no better than the general population who may not have had the same educational opportunities.

"The report is a serious wake-up call for the Irish education system and demands an urgent response," said Tony Donohoe, IBEC Head of Education Policy.

Basic literary and numeracy skills are vital in determining an individual's participation in employment and the wider community and it is a cause for concern that so many people are obviously leaving education without these accomplishments.


Real competition in all sectors of the economy is something that will be welcomed by the general public. So today's news that Bank of Ireland is offering large discounts on car insurance to existing customers and Aviva is promising 25pc discounts on some of its motor insurance policies is good news for hard-pressed consumers.

There has been a 2pc rise in the number of insurance awards made in the first half of the year, but according to the head of the Injuries Board, Patricia Byron, that is no justification for a rise in insurance premiums.

So hopefully the discounts now on offer will encourage other providers to give their customers a better deal.

Switching utility and insurance providers can be an irksome business, but very worthwhile once the initial offer that tempted users to them has run out, usually after a year.

But Dermott Jewell of the Consumers Association has advised drivers to do their homework and make sure that switching is worthwhile. It is surprisingly easy to get a discount as an existing customer by telling your current provider that you can get a better deal elsewhere and it is a strategy always worth trying.

Irish Independent

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