“It’s the little things – using a measuring tape, reading a menu”.
The National Adult Literacy Agency is an independent charity committed to making sure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to learning opportunities that meet their needs.
There are currently over 50,000 adults attending ETB adult education courses nationwide.
One such student is Donna Murray, who attends City of Dublin ETB Parnell Adult Learning Centre, who explained to us why she decided to return to education:
I decided to go back to education because of my daughter. I wanted to do something with my life for her, and to find out who I really am. I wanted to know what I was good at, and to be able to express myself properly. But really it was to make my daughter proud.
NALA research shows a number of barriers to participation in adult literacy tuition, including the stigma that still exists about the issue. Often people feel too embarrassed to return to learning and go to great extremes to hide their difficulties from their friends and family. Similarly some people had a negative experience of school in the past and associate returning to learning with that experience.
Donna admitted that she had some reservations about registering for a learning course. She admitted the thoughts of taking the first steps “scared” her.
I thought, ‘I’m an adult and I’m going to education. This is silly. I should know this stuff.’
There were times when I thought ‘this isn’t for me’ and I wanted to walk away. But then I thought, no. Put one foot through the door, and put the other one in behind it. And go for it.
The service is delivered by 1,200 paid tutors and over 2,500 volunteers. Donna continued:
It’s not like school. It’s one adult teaching another adult, it’s a friendship. The tutors inspire me.They’re just ordinary people, but they give so much to the students.
Adult literacy and numeracy teaching is different from teaching in schools. It is designed to meet each student’s needs. Students set the agenda. They decide their own goals and how they wish to learn. Donna said:
For me, I need to know there’s a start and a finish. You have to start somewhere, and then I can set my own goals with my tutor as a sort of ‘finish line’ to work towards. It helps me to stay focused on the possibilities and the positives.
The OECD Adult Skills Survey shows that about 1 in 6 Irish adults are at or below level 1 on a five level literacy scale. Ireland ranks 15th out of 24 participating countries. At this level a person may be unable to understand basic written information. For Donna, simple things were causing problems in her daily life:
As cheesy as it might sound, the simplest little things have been life-changing for me. Being able to use a measuring tape. Being able to understand a word on the telly that I hadn’t known before. I can now relate to people better. There might be days where I think ‘I’m not learning anything, nothing’s going in my head.’ But it does go in. It’s in there somewhere and you do find it.
Maybe I’ll be reading something and a word will just come back to me as if from thin air. Now I can connect with things that I’m reading or watching or listening to in a way that I couldn’t before.
It’s not just reading and writing that has improved for Donna, and she has a word of advice for anyone considering a return to adult education:
I have achieved self-belief. I’ve achieved confidence to know that anything’s possible. I’ve learned not to give up. As with any new challenge, there will be highs and lows, but trust me
If I can do it, you can do it. Nerves are good. We all get nervous about things we care about. Give it a try and you will be surprised how much you learn about yourself.
For more information on ETB adult education courses near you, head here.