A short history of NALA

30 years providing leadership on adult literacy

The 1970’s saw many social justice movements emerge, one of which was NALA, formally set up in 1980 by volunteers concerned at the lack of response to adults with literacy and numeracy difficulties in Ireland. They along with a small staff worked hard and smart in our first decade to set up Ireland’s response to adult literacy. They launched a nationwide awareness raising campaign on adult literacy services, pioneered new teaching methods, created policy on good adult literacy work and organised events for adult literacy students and volunteer tutors.

By the mid 1990s, NALA concentrated on the professionalisation of the adult literacy service, with a focus on training and development. With this in train, the publication of the first Irish survey of adult literacy in 1997 provided an impetus to address adult literacy on a bigger scale. The survey showed that one in four adults had very low levels of literacy skills and a further 30% had below average skills. These findings were met with shock and disbelief. NALA's funding was increased and we intensified our efforts to get appropriate responses to adult literacy, involving providers of education and training and services working with the unemployed. We conducted research on the barriers facing adults with literacy difficulties in returning to learning, led a European project on quality assurance in adult literacy education and ran a vigorous pre-election campaign which got literacy on the political agenda. The first ever National Adult Literacy Programme (2000) was heavily influenced by NALA’s work.

The 2000s were marked by our growing expertise in adult literacy, our adeptness at influencing adult literacy policy and our ability to lead and support good practice. We also launched one of the most internationally successful adult education projects ever, our TV series about adult literacy in RTÉ One. Called Read Write Now it influenced thousands of people to return to education and was followed by 8 more TV series including The Really Useful Guide to Words and Numbers and more recently Written Off? During this time we supported thousands of adults learn by posting workbooks to them and providing tutor support over the phone and internet.

Since it was established 30 years ago, NALA has been responsible for ensuring there is an awareness of the adult literacy issue in Ireland and a response to it from the state. The quality of that response and its growth has been at the core of our work to ensure people with literacy difficulties can avail of the tuition they want. Since 1997, NALA has been the dedicated force behind the 30 fold increase in adult literacy funding and the 10 fold increase in the number of people involved in tuition.