‘Invest in those with the least education’

September 27, 2019

National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is calling on Minister Donohoe to invest in adult literacy in the upcoming budget

Research[2] shows that one in six Irish adults (521,550 people) find reading and understanding everyday texts difficult. One in four (754,000 people) has difficulty doing maths, from basic addition and subtraction to calculating averages.

Recent data from the Central Statistics Office[3] shows that currently there are 445,800 people (aged 25-64) who have less than a QQI Level 4 qualification (junior cert). These include:

  • 233,300 (52%) employed;
  • 24,900 (6%) unemployed and
  • 187,600 (42%) not engaged in the labour force.

“In Ireland, adults with already-high levels of literacy and numeracy skills tend to participate the most in adult education, while those with lower levels of skills participate less – and often much less,” said Dr Inez Bailey, NALA CEO. “That’s why we are asking the Minister for Education and Skills to invest in improving adult literacy in the upcoming budget.”

“Higher levels of literacy and numeracy facilitate learning. Participation rates in job related education and training are at least twice as high among adults who attained at least Level 4 in literacy than they are among those who attained at most Level 1.”

“Low-skilled adults risk being trapped in a situation in which they rarely benefit from adult learning, and their skills remain weak or deteriorate over time – which makes it even harder for these individuals to participate in work or society.”

“Helping low-skilled adults to break this vicious cycle is crucial. While we appreciate the Minister has limited resources, adults with unmet literacy needs have not benefited from our education system during bust or boom. Research has shown that investing in adult literacy gives strong economic returns – it is estimated that the annual income gain per person per level increase on the National Qualifications Framework was €3,810. The gain to the exchequer, in terms of reduced social welfare transfers and increased tax payments, was €1,531 per annum.[4]  Ireland needs a strong literate society and our government must invest in adult literacy skills now, putting those furthest behind first,” said Dr Inez Bailey, NALA CEO.

NALA’s Pre-budget submission is seeking investment in 3 areas:


Action Cost
1 Develop a Whole-of-Government Strategy for literacy, numeracy and digital skills over the next 10 years. €20 million to include new and innovative ways to improve literacy such as a family literacy initiative.
2 Provide high quality and relevant literacy learning programmes including intensive and flexible options; appropriate supports as required (income, transport, child and elder care), work placement where appropriate and progression opportunities €31.13 million would give 27,500 adults 200 literacy hours tuition at a per person cost of €1,132.
3 Targeted paid learning leave programme for employees in work with literacy, numeracy and digital needs and or less than a level 4 qualification to develop their basic literacy and numeracy skills To give one person 200 hours of paid learning leave would cost €3,286.

This is based on an hourly rate of €16.43 (the mean of the minimum of €9.80 and the average industrial wage of €23.07).


More information is in NALA’s Pre-budget submission: https://www.nala.ie/publications/nala-2020-pre-budget-submission/


Literacy changes lives and benefits everyone – individuals, society and the economy. Literacy, numeracy and digital skills enable people to reach their full potential, be active and critical participants in society and help address poverty and social exclusion. People with higher levels of literacy, numeracy and problem solving using technology skills, are more likely to have better health and a longer life, be employed and earn better income.[1]


For more information contact:

Helen Ryan, NALA Policy officer on  01 412 7919 or 087 2849737

or Clare McNally 01 412 7909 or 087 6486292.


[1] OECD (2013) Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills

[2]Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012 Survey Results for Ireland: CSO, Dublin

[3]CSO (2018) Education Attainment Thematic Report

[4] NALA (2009) Dorgan, J. A cost benefit analysis of adult literacy training Research report


2020 pre-budget submission
2020 pre-budget submission https://www.nala.ie/publications/nala-2020-pre-budget-submission/
reading icon

Sign up to be kept up to date on our latest campaigns.