Campaign launched to help people to improve their literacy and numeracy skills

September 6, 2018

Friday 7 September

Campaign launched to encourage people to improve their literacy, numeracy and digital skills

A public information campaign that helps people who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology, was launched today. The radio and video advertising campaign is called Take the first step and features the stories of several people who have struggled with literacy and numeracy difficulties throughout their lives. Each person’s storyfocuses on the benefits of returning to education with the aim of encouraging others to reap the rewards by doing the same. Watch the campaign here.

The most recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills showed that 550,000 Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a five level literacy scale. 750,000 Irish adults are at or below level 1 for numeracy. At these levels, individuals may not be able to fill in an application form, add up a bill, search the web or help children with homework.

The Take the first step campaign is managed by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) and SOLAS, the State Further Education and Training Authority, with support from Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI). Adult Literacy is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020. Literacy, numeracy and digital skills are key elements of the European Union’s lifelong learning policy. The ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning provides over €90 million in funding for Adult Literacy courses from 2014-2020.

“Often people who return to education say the hardest part was making the first call or taking the first step into an ETB Adult Education Centre.  The aim of this campaign is to encourage people to take the first step to get the help they need.  We want people to know they are not alone and there are lots of options to suit their needs,” said Inez Bailey, NALA CEO.

Journalist Charlie Bird and author Sinead Moriarty officially launched the campaign ahead of a conference to mark International Literacy Day in Dublin.

Nikki Gallagher chair of the Further Education and Training Authority National FET Literacy and Numeracy Awareness Advisory Committee and Director of Communications at SOLAS noted that “Literacy and numeracy skills are  fundamental to personal fulfilment, active citizenship, social cohesion and employability. Evidence supports the positive impact of literacy and numeracy skills for individuals, communities and the national economy. SOLAS is proud to be part of the collective effort to enhance literacy and numeracy skills in Ireland,”

“Taking that first step or making that first phone call can indeed be the hardest part for people returning to education. By contacting their local Education and Training Board (ETB) they will meet trained staff in a safe environment who understand how difficult it is.  I would encourage people to pick up the phone or call into their local ETB as the first step in transforming their lives,” said Siobhan McEntee ETBI Further Education and Training Enhancement Coordinator.

Attorney General to speak at International Literacy Day conference

Today, Friday 7 September, the National Adult Literacy Agency are organising a conference ‘Literacy Matters: challenges and solutions for communicating effectively with the public’ in the National College of Ireland, Dublin.

Speakers include the Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe; MB Donnelly, Data Protection Commission, Ireland; and Jennifer Hanrahan, Office of the Ombudsman.

Speaking before the conference, the Attorney General Seamus Wolfe said: “Low literacy levels are much more common than is often thought, and this should be more widely recognised in the legal system.  The law and legal system is an example of an area where language used can be confusing for individuals, whether due to unfamiliar phrases or unusual practices. While accuracy and precision must be achieved, wherever possible plain language should be used. It is good to see conferences such as this which aim to highlight what both legal and non-legal systems and organisations can do to better help all individuals to fully understand what is being communicated to them.”

Friday’s conference will show how low literacy levels in Ireland affect the lives of individuals, the wellbeing of society and the economy. It will show how individuals and organisations can be more effective in how they meet the needs of those who need their services.


For further information, please contact:

Clare McNally, National Adult Literacy Agency,, 087 648 6292

Patrick Gleeson, National Adult Literacy Agency, 086 7925363

Jennifer McCormack,, 087 236 2989

Background information

About the OECD survey

The most recent OECD Survey of Adult Skills showed that one in six Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a five level literacy scale. One in four Irish adults are at or below level 1 for numeracy, and two in five are at or below level 1 on using technology to complete tasks.

For this survey the Central Statistics Office (CSO) interviewed 6,000 people aged 16 – 65 in Ireland and assessed their literacy, numeracy and ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish tasks. The survey was conducted in Ireland between August 2011 and March 2012. The results were announced in October 2013.

Who does it affect?

It affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds. Within the one in six figure there are people who are not able to write their own name. However, most adults with low literacy skills can read something but find it hard to understand official forms and instructions. Some will have left school confident about their numeracy and reading skills but find that changes in their workplace and everyday life make their skills inadequate. The literacy skills demanded by society are changing all the time.

Adult literacy provision in Ireland

There are currently 60,000 students in ETB Adult Literacy Services.

About the ‘Take the first step’ campaign

Take the first step is Ireland’s campaign to support people who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to get the help they need.

The Take the first step advertising campaign centres around several people sharing their stories through a variety of media channels. The content and message of each individual’s story focused on the benefits of returning to further education. It includes national and regional radio advertising and video on demand and social media.

Taking the first steps on any difficult journey requires courage and commitment – and for those who have difficulties with reading, writing, maths or technology, the stigma attached can prove daunting and discouraging. Often people who return to education say the hardest part was making the first call or taking the first step into an Adult Education Centre.

All the advertising encourages adults who have difficulty with reading, writing, maths or technology to contact a Freephone support line 1800 20 20 65 to get the help they need.  Once they make contact the National Adult Literacy Agency will put them in contact with their local ETB Adult Education Centre or tell them about other free services that will meet their needs. See for more information.

International Literacy Day conference – booked out

Literacy Matters: Challenges and solutions for communicating effectively with the public

This conference will show that organisations that are aware of literacy issues are more effective in meeting the needs of those who use their service.

Speakers and topics:

  • Introduction: Conor Pope, Author and Consumer Affairs correspondent, The Irish Times
  • Literacy levels in Ireland – their impact on individuals, society and the economy: Dr Inez Bailey, Chief Executive, National Adult Literacy Agency
  • The personal consequences: Eamon Delaney, Adult Literacy Student, Tipperary Education and Training Board (ETB)
  • Plain English and the law: Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe
  • Understanding and responding to patients’ information needs: Sarah Lane and Tara Droog, Cancer Information Editors, Irish Cancer Society
  • GDPR and the public, making the complicated accessible: MB Donnelly, Head of GDPR Awareness and Training, Assistant Commissioner, Data Protection Commission, Ireland
  • Integrating literacy into apprenticeship programmes, workplace training and taster programmes for the unemployed: Joann Power, Adult Literacy Organiser, Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board
  • How document design can support people who struggle with reading: Rob Waller, Simplification Centre, UK
  • Communications: A bridge or a barrier? Jennifer Hanrahan, Senior Investigator, Office of the Ombudsman

Free workshops from 1.30pm

  1. Writing clearly for the web
  2. Plain English editing and writing
  3. How to be a literacy friendly organisation
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