Recently the Sun devoted a whole day - as part of its excellent Get Britain Learning Campaign – to reading. The Evening Standard has run a highly commendable campaign 'Get London Reading', the radio presenter John Humphreys revisited his school to find out about literacy levels and I was at a school near Neath as part of a Shelagh Fogarty Radio 5 Live programme, which despite the day's continual breaking news about phone-hacking, devoted two stimulating hours to family learning and adult literacy. On the programme we heard from an Adult Learners' Week award winner, Rachael Morgan, who is now able to read and write simple sentences, three years after deciding to tackle her deeply entrenched literacy problems.
This was followed by another interview with Shelagh Fogarty on International Literacy Day (8 Sept), the day NIACE published the final report of a year-long inquiry into adult literacy, where two inspirational people, Linda Worden and Peter Fewell, spoke about learning to read and write as adults. It was appropriate that the interview took place in Trafalgar Square during an event to promote the 2012 Paralympics, alongside all sorts of people overcoming discrimination and combating stereotypes with remarkable achievements.
The media – old and new - is the most important and pervasive element in most people's lives - radio and TV, YouTube and Facebook, Twitter and newspapers. It holds the key to most people's homes, hearts and heads.
The way we communicate through these channels is a cornerstone to new connections throughout the global village. The variety of media and opinion enables us to explore – and decide - for ourselves on any number of news stories and discussions. But we need a media, with its remarkable talent and breathtaking ability to consume our attention, that not only informs and entertains us, but which also educates us and gets us passionate about issues of national importance.
A concerted and collaborative campaign in the UK - highlighting the impact of poor literacy and numeracy, diminishing the stigma, encouraging enrolment and unleashing the power of communities communicating - could be breathtaking in its scale and could help this country to address another scandal. The scandal that one in five adults have very poor literacy levels, one in four struggle with the level of maths that you need for everyday life, and young children starting school having never seen a book, or not knowing how to write their own name.
It was in response to a single news story almost 30 years ago that kick-started Band Aid, Live Aid, Comic Relief and revolutionised awareness about both fund-raising and global poverty. That was decades before social media. If we are as concerned about the poverty – whether we're talking money, health, or your ability to take part in society – that too many people in this country have to live with, then now is the time to keep these wheels in motion to enable thousands more people like Linda and Peter to grow in confidence, and for Rachael, for her sake, the sake of her children and for the communities we all live in.
It's a scandal that one of the wealthiest nations in the world can still have maybe a fifth of its adult population struggling with literacy and numeracy. As Lord Boswell, the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Adult Literacy, said, "Our basic message is that we need to keep up our national investment in adult literacy, not just for economic reasons, but because in today's world no-one can function fully without good communication skills. We should all be concerned that such exclusion contributes to personal misery and civil dysfunction."
It's good to see that the Government is taking the issue seriously as it grapples with how best to improve the skills of the nation. What we need is for the whole of the media to build on what has already been started by The Sun, The Evening Standard and the BBC and get behind this – not by naming and shaming, or by blaming teachers and parents, but by showing how this can become 'an issue of the past rather than of now'.
Carol Taylor is director of development and research at NIACE, which encourages all adults to engage in learning
Read other FE News article by Carol Taylor: