New SOLAS campaign encourages adults to ‘Take the first step’

September 7, 2016

A major new awareness campaign that encourages adults to ‘Take the first step’ to improve their reading, writing, maths and computers skills was launched on Thursday 8 September, to mark International Literacy Day.

SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority, has funded the campaign on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.

Taking the first steps on any difficult journey requires courage and commitment – and for those who have difficulties reading or writing, the stigma attached can prove daunting and discouraging. This campaign aims to dispel this stigma by focusing on the benefits of returning to further education, and encouraging those interested in improving their basic skills to Freephone 1800 20 20 65, Text LEARN to 50050 or log onto to get the help they need. Once they make contact the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) will put them in contact with their local ETB Adult Education Centre or tell them about other free services that will meet their needs.

The take the first step campaign includes national radio advertising, video and digital advertising on social media, posters and public relations activity. The radio and video campaign features four students sharing their positive stories about returning to education to improve their literacy and numeracy: Eamon from Kilkenny (38); Chris from Sligo (53); Geraldine from Meath (48) and Tony (59) from Cork. All of these students are early school leavers who have struggled with literacy and numeracy difficulties throughout their life. The campaign will run for two weeks and will finish at the National Ploughing Championships in Offaly.

Watch their stories on our YouTube channel here.

Take the first step is a key action in the Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy 2014-2019. The Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019  sets out a programme for change and improvement in further education and training in Ireland which will meet the needs of the labour market and society.

The campaign is being managed by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) on behalf of SOLAS. It brings together a range of stakeholders including ETBs, Libraries, Skills for Work, SkillnetsAONTASISMEIBEC, the Department of Education and the Department of Health. An Post are also supporting the campaign by funding a national TV advertising encouraging adults to ‘take the first step’.


Nikki Gallagher, Director of Communications at SOLAS and Chair of the National Literacy and Numeracy Awareness Raising Committee said:

“Improving literacy and numeracy outcomes for the adult population is a key part of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy within the Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-2019. This recognises the need for a national awareness raising campaign to encourage higher levels of engagement in the national literacy programme.  While SOLAS is responsible for the delivery of objective, we are delighted to be able to partner with NALA and to harness their considerable experience and expertise in promoting the importance of literacy and numeracy for all adults in Ireland. We are also extremely grateful for the support of the Steering Committee and the strategic partners in the rolling-out of the campaign.”

Inez Bailey, CEO, NALA, said, “We would encourage anyone who wants to improve their reading, writing or maths skills to contact us. There are many courses to suit all needs in local ETB Adult Education Centres. It’s relaxed and friendly and can take just a couple of hours a week. People often think they are the ‘only one’ but at the moment there are lots of people returning to learning to improve their reading, writing, maths and computer skills. Whatever the reason for going back to learning, the benefits are always the same. Not only do people improve their old skills, but they also gain the confidence to learn new ones.”

For more information see:




For further information contact:

Clare McNally, Communications Manager, 01 412 7909 / 087 648 6292

Patrick Gleeson, Communications Officer, National Adult Literacy Agency, 01 412 7916/ 086 792 5363.

Frequently asked questions:

How many people have literacy and numeracy difficulties in Ireland?

In the recent OECD Adult Skills Survey, the Central Statistics Office interviewed 6,000 people aged 16 – 65 in Ireland and assessed their literacy and numeracy skills.The results found that almost 18% or 1 in 6 Irish adults are at or below level 1, the lowest level on a five level literacy scale. At this level a person may be unable to read basic text.25% or 1 in 4 Irish adults are at or below level 1 for numeracy. At this level a person may be unable to do a simple maths calculation, for example adding up prices.

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.

Does it predominately affect older people?

There can be an intergenerational impact – parents who have literacy difficulties may then not be able to support their own children with their reading and writing. This can lead to their children falling behind and in turn having literacy difficulties or a negative experience of school. Research shows that children encouraged to read and learn at home quickly develop better literacy skills.

What stops people from returning to learning?

Sometimes people are not able to see the benefits to returning to learning. They had a negative experience of school in the past and associate returning to learning with that experience.

There is also a stigma attached to low literacy and numeracy skills. Often people feel too embarrassed to return to learning and go to great extremes to hide their difficulties from their friends and family. However, this does not have to be the case. Adult education is a very different experience to school. Adult learning is all about addressing the needs of the learner, working at a pace that suits them and according to their needs and interests.

What are the benefits to returning to learning?

Throughout Ireland, lots of people are returning to learning and brushing up on their reading, writing and maths skills. They are people who want to catch up on the skills they missed at school, parents who want to help children with their homework, workers who would like to go for promotion but don’t have the confidence to sit an exam and there are those who would simply like to write a letter or send an email.

Whatever the reason, the benefits are always the same. Not only do people improve their old skills but they also gain the confidence to go on to learn new ones. Although it requires some hard work, it’s a great experience that opens up a whole new world of opportunities in a friendly and relaxed environment. And it’s not like going back to school. Everyone learns at their own pace and there aren’t any exams at the end.

Adult literacy provision in Ireland

There are currently 50,000 students in ETB (formerly VEC) Adult Literacy Services.

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