WHY is there a need for literacy services in modern day Ireland?
In 2013, the Central Statistics Office published the Irish results of an OECD programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). A total of 24 countries took part in the survey.
The results were compared to the 1997 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS). They showed 22% of Irish adults in 2007 were below Level 1 on the literacy scale. In 2013, this figure was 18%.
“Level 1 means that a person may have issues filling in forms. It is an indicator that a person may have issues at a specific level”, explained Paul McGlynn, a tutor at ABLES Adult Literacy Scheme, The Glen, Cork.
“The literacy problems that we encounter in this country are not unique. There is a perception that we are a country of high achievers. The reality is, there is an undercurrent of people who fall through the cracks. They fall through the cracks at primary level. A huge number of people fall through the cracks at secondary level,” said Paul.
“If the literacy service was successful, you would think we wouldn’t have a literacy problem. That’s not the reality. The reality is, we still have areas of social deprivation. We still have people who fail at second level. The problems that are endemic in our society are still here. Because of that, we still have people with literacy issues.”
ABLES is one of the adult literacy service providers in Cork City, headed by the Cork Education and Training Board (ETB). ABLES provides educational services, predominantly in the adult and post secondary school sectors.
Fiona Long is the resource worker at ABLES.
“We have tutors that do group work with classes of six people and up. Group work comprises of anything from the national framework, communications, maths, English as a second language (ESOL), computers”, said Fiona.
“We train volunteers to work with people on a one-to- one basis. We respond to whatever needs the community present. We are very flexible within our tuition.”
Mary McCarthy works as an administrator and volunteer tutor at ABLES. She meets with her students on a one to one basis and was driven to help others overcome their literacy issues from a young age.
“I’ve always had a want to help people because, when I was young, my grandmother couldn’t read or write. When I was eight years old, I taught her to write her name and I got a buzz out of it. She lived on an acre and a half. She had two pigs and two cows and when she sold the pigs or had to do anything with the cows, she had to fill in forms. That was my job.
“When I got the opportunity in 2008 to do the training course to become a volunteer tutor, I jumped at it”, said Mary.
She explained why she believes there is a need for literacy services in Ireland.
“I’m 56. I could give you 15 people who started primary school with me who didn’t finish. They had to go out and earn money,” said Mary.
“Then, we had this great boom in Ireland and then it fell apart. Now, you have people in their late forties, fifties who are out of a job they had been in for ten, twenty, thirty years. They don’t have the skill set to move,” said Mary. “A lot of these people are extremely clever. They just need a little bit of guidance. I would like people to know that we exist. When a person comes in here for help, it’s a big step for them. They may have never used a computer in their lives and they are now in a computer age.”
* Paul McGlynn, who was interviewed for this feature, sadly passed away on September 1. His partner Ber kindly granted permission for Paul’s words to be published and shared with the public.