Almost 50 per cent of Tasmania’s population is functionally illiterate, a parliamentary committee heard on Tuesday.
Tasmanians are believed to be disproportionately affected by illiteracy due to intergenerational and regional disadvantage, as well as lower education attainment among young Tasmanians.
Tasmania is the poorest state in Australia, with incomes 26 per cent below the national average, according to research company McCrindle.
“While social inequalities have a profound effect on educational attainment, they should not be an excuse for lower levels of literacy in the State,” lamented the Tasmanian 100% Literacy Alliance at the committee.
For decades, economic and social commentators have bemoaned Tasmania’s lower educational outcomes compared to the rest of the country.
Despite legislative and policy changes and implementation of a range of programs to improve state education in Tasmania, the Tasmanian 100% Literacy Alliance says there has been little sustained improvement in the state’s educational outcomes.
As of 2012, only 52.8 per cent of Tasmanian men and 46.9 per cent of Tasmanian women possess an OECD literacy level of three or above.
Below level three, an adult lacks the “basic skills needed to understand and use information from newspapers, magazines, books and brochures” said the 26TEN Initiative.
“More needs to be done at the national level, particularly in meeting the demand of help required in rural and regional locations,” 26TEN urged in its submission.
Poor literacy skills can impact an individual’s ability to complete even the most fundamental daily tasks.
Reading safety signs, understanding medical instructions, and getting their driver’s licence, are just some of the tasks that an adult with poor literacy skills may struggle with.
Stigma and shame are the key barriers to seeking support for adults struggling with literacy, according to Rural Business Tasmania.
Currently, there is no national adult literacy policy within Australia.
On Monday, University of Melbourne professor of language and literacy education, Joseph Lo Bianco, urged the Australian government to change this.
“If [illiterate adults] are going to have any chance to catch up to what society will offer, it will be through national policy.”
“There‘s no other mechanism in society for this to happen,” he said.