The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) reported an additional 1,000 calls to its freephone support service in the last 12 months, a 44 per cent increase on the same period in the previous year.
NALA said the increase was a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of the callers were people who had just lost their jobs, parents who struggled with understanding information while home-schooling and older people who wanted help using technology to stay in touch with family.
Details of the calls were announced at NALA’s AGM on Saturday, April 24th:
The most common reasons for calling the agency's freephone were:
- People who had just lost their job.
- Parents and guardians struggling to understand information from schools.
- Problems with paying bills online or online shopping.
- Help with reading information that came in the post.
- Older people who need help with using FaceTime to stay in touch with loved ones.
- Difficulty filling out forms, such as social welfare and carers forms.
- Can’t use technology and grandchildren don’t have the patience to teach them (older people cocooning).
NALA freephone operator Jennifer Dowling said: “A lot of callers during the lockdown rang us as they were reflecting on their own life. They were suddenly out of work and had more time on their hands. They felt very different to their family and friends who could all work from home. When the pandemic happened, and they lost their jobs instantly it felt like their lives came to a sudden full-stop.”
Ms Dowling added: “This happened to people in all age groups and they were annoyed and depressed that they were being left behind. We spent a lot of time on these calls as they needed to know someone was listening and we took the time to talk to them and discuss what options they would have if they wanted to return to education.”
Stories of people who needed the organisation's help included a taxi driver who had hidden the fact he never learnt to read or write for years, he would tell passengers who asked gave him an address he had forgotten his glasses and ask, “can you read it out for me I can’t see it?” Being out of work due to lockdown, he thought this was the perfect time to get in touch for help.
Another example was a mother who was distressed as her son with Down Syndrome was losing his reading ability due to the closure of a centre he attends, NALA set him up with a tutor so he could continue learning online.
In total, 450 people learned over the phone with distance learning tutors in 2020 (4,882 one-to-one learning sessions completed).
Meanwhile, 1,965 people learned online through the organisation's eLearning website.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said: “One in six Irish adults can’t read, or struggle with reading. This is not a figure I can live with. Next month, I will bring the first ever National Adult Literacy Strategy to government, currently being prepared by SOLAS in consultation with learners, education and training providers, and civil society groups.”
Minister Harris added: “I want to congratulate NALA on all it has achieved over the past 40 years and the real impact its work has on people’s lives. Particularly during the pandemic, NALA continued to assist people with key services which has made all the difference to quality of life for our people during a very tough time.”