Priority 4 - Improving adult literacy and numeracy

As at 2012, an estimated 485,000 New Zealanders aged between 20 and 65 had no qualifications (including 310,000 who were currently in work). This is a decrease since 2010, when around 520,000 people had no qualifications (including 335,000 in work). Individuals without qualifications experience poorer economic and social outcomes, particularly during tough economic times.

Basic skills in literacy, language and numeracy are essential to participate fully in the modern world, and they are a priority across the education system. Without these skills, adults are limited in all aspects of their lives – including finding and keeping a job, raising their children, and following instructions (e.g. for the safe use of medicines, the preparation of food, or workplace health and safety).

An improvement in literacy and numeracy skills helps not only those seeking employment, but also those already in the workforce. These skills also help people to gain further qualifications and improve their career prospects which can lead to more productive, better paid and sustainable employment. In particular, the increasingly technology-based nature of jobs and the workforce will require individuals to have stronger basic skills, especially in literacy and numeracy. This is particularly important as workplaces become more dynamic and the need to up-skill is essential to sustainable careers.

To ensure that all New Zealanders gain these basic skills, the Government has focused in recent years on improving the targeting, uptake and quality of study at levels 1 and 2. There have been major reviews of foundation education and changes have included requiring that literacy, language and numeracy provision is embedded in all level 1 to 3 courses. A new Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool was introduced in 2010 to improve TEOs’ ability to tailor teaching to the needs of students. In 2012, 101,000 learners were assessed at least once using this tool, with 254,000 individual assessments carried out across reading, writing, vocabulary and numeracy.

Reflecting the different learning needs and approaches of adult learners, Government support for literacy and numeracy is provided in a variety of ways. Intensive literacy and numeracy funds target learners with particularly high needs. This also includes provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses as a significant part of our workforce is made up of many people for whom English is a second language. Workplace literacy and numeracy delivers targeted job-specific literacy and numeracy for employees in the workplace.

The tertiary education sector needs to continue to offer a diverse and flexible range of foundation skills programmes that reflect learners’ different needs and abilities, and help support their achievement. This means:

  • having shorter, quick options targeting job-specific literacy, language and numeracy gaps as well as longer, more extensive options for people with more substantial learning needs
  • TEOs working with communities and employers to reach new learners, especially those in the workplace
  • having supportive and flexible policy settings.

Indicators of success

  • More individuals across all age groups attain qualifications at level 2 or above.
  • Literacy, language and numeracy skills improve across all age groups.
  • There is more industry involvement with tertiary education to support the up-skilling of the existing labour force.

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