By Sophie Quick
One in five Australian adults lack the literacy or numeracy skills needed to fully participate in everyday life. What are the impacts? And what can be done to level the educational playing field? The Big Issue Australia investigates.
Shane is a Big Issue vendor in Canberra. He grew up with his grandparents on a farm in country New South Wales. When he left school at 15, he went to work on his uncle’s stud farm, where he learned to care for horses – how to break them in, how to shoe them.
Shane has faced a lot of challenges in 46 years, but the one that continues to impact him daily is his struggle with literacy. “I wanted to learn reading and writing in primary school,” he says. “But I just didn’t. I used to get teased. The teacher said, ‘I haven’t got time for you – you can go outside and play.’”
Shane’s experience is not unusual. It is estimated that one in five Australian adults have low literacy and/or numeracy. This means that around three million adults cannot read at the level needed to participate fully in work and life in Australia today.
Living with low literacy makes life hard. If you struggle to read and write, you have fewer education and employment options. It can make day-to-day activities – like shopping for groceries, reading maps, catching buses, attending appointments – confusing and exhausting. How do you pay a bill online, order an Uber or find somewhere to live or rent if navigating the digital world is difficult?
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