In my 20s, I volunteered to teach adults to read. And during the training, I learned of their ingenuity in getting through an illiterate life. Like memorising the look of tins on the supermarket shelf. Like getting their friends to order in cafes. Like ringing directory assistance for a telephone number.
Yet, despite their ingenuity, these illiterate adults led timid lives. If they were employed, they were in low skilled jobs with limited or no career prospects. Some of them barely left their homes.
Being able to read and write allows us to communicate with each other and make sense of the world. It opens up all manner of jobs and opportunity. It gives us choice and allows us to lead bold lives. So, it’s deeply concerning to find that in the past decade, Australian students have fallen from second to seventh in the world in reading.
Labor wants Australia to be in the top five in reading, science and maths by 2025. That’s why we’re investing in a National Plan for School Improvement and we’ve made available $540 million in literacy and numeracy programs for government, Catholic and independent schools nationwide, with $6.1 million for the ACT.
Late last month I joined Peter Garrett at the launch of the National Literacy and Numeracy Week at the bilingual Yarralumla Primary. As I listened to the students chirping their way through songs and stories in Italian and English, I thought back to those adults I taught in the 80s who weren’t even literate in their mother tongue.
And I was reminded of the literacy and numeracy program at Richardson Primary that targets students, but is having a knock on effect on parents.
To get the most out of its student program, Richardson Primary has partnered with the Canberra Institute of Technology to improve the literacy, numeracy, computer and job readiness skills of parents. One parent recently rejoined the workforce after being unemployed for over 10 years.
The course has not only broken the cycle of low income, but improved her confidence and family’s wellbeing. With this new found quest for learning, and the reading and writing skills to do it, this Canberra Mum has now opened up a world of possibilities for herself, and her kids too.