Irish literacy policy and funding

Adult Literacy Funding

Before the 1970s there was no official recognition of the adult literacy problem in Ireland. Free second-level education was not introduced in Ireland until 1967, far later than in most other European countries. It was not until 1973, in a report called Adult Education in Ireland, that adult literacy was formally identified as a need. In 1980, the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) was established as a membership organisation to act as a coordinating body for all involved in adult literacy work, to raise awareness and to lobby for funding and recognition of the issue. Between 1990 and 1997 adult literacy services grew slowly but steadily.

In the late 1990s however the findings of an International Adult Literacy Survey were published. These had a dramatic impact on adult literacy policy and funding. Up to this there had been no comprehensive facts on the scale of adult literacy difficulties and the issue had been neglected by governments. The findings showed that 25% of Irish adults had very low literacy skills. These findings promoted action on adult literacy.

The Department of Education and Science made adult literacy its top priority in its first ever adult education White Paper, Learning for Life 2000. It developed its first national adult literacy policy which increased the number of adult literacy programmes provided by the VEC adult literacy services (now the Education and Training Boards ETBs). Increased funding was also provided to National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA). In the field of vocational training, a number of initiatives were also launched aimed at improving basic skills of workers.

Before the International Adult Literacy Survey there was only a very small fund to cover minimal adult literacy services. After this survey funding for adult literacy increased from €1 million in 1997 to €18 million in 2004. The budget for the Adult Literacy Service operated through the ETBs, is about €30 million and other measures in which literacy training is at least a component amount to another €3 million.