Strategy for Essential Skills

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 30 September 2002.

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Photo of Eugene McMenamin Eugene McMenamin Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00, 30 September 2002

5. asked the Minister for Employment and Learning to give an update on the strategy for essential skills.

(AQO 200/02)

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Department for Employment and Learning has analysed feedback from the ‘Essential Skills for Living’ framework and consultation paper. A strategy and an action plan will be published by the end of September 2002. I am very pleased with the response to the consultation document. The strategy will improve greatly the lives of many people, and it will have a positive effect on society as a whole. It sets challenging targets to build capacity across providers of literacy and numeracy courses, and to engage a significant number of adults in improving their essential skills.

I am pleased that resources for the strategy were allocated in the draft Budget last week. However, the amounts are considerably lower than those allocated to similar strategies in the Republic of Ireland and in Great Britain.

Photo of Eugene McMenamin Eugene McMenamin Social Democratic and Labour Party

Essential skills are a key issue that needs to be addressed in projects throughout Northern Ireland, particularly given that about one in four adults in Northern Ireland have the lowest levels of literacy, which, at best, is a reading age of 11. How will the essential skills strategy be funded?

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

The essential skills action plan is a cornerstone of my Department’s work. I certainly appreciate how vital it is that we address the awful situation in which 24% of the adult population have low literacy. As I said, although I am pleased that the draft Budget allocated resources to the essential skills strategy, the funding is less than the amount required. There is a need for significant resources to put in place a quality infrastructure in the curriculum, the assessment qualifications and tutor training, and to engage the target number of learners in the strategy in the first year of its budget. However, insufficient resources have been allocated for the second and third years to meet the needs of the large number of adults with poor literacy and numeracy skills. My Department will continue to submit bids for funding in annual Budget rounds to sustain, and, I hope, expand, that capacity.