Without a national plan on reading, writing and numeracy for adults, Australia risks being left behind.
Shame and embarrassment are both barriers and people need to be reassured they are not alone, adult educators told federal parliament’s employment, education and training committee on Monday.
“This is invisible as a national issue for people who have a literacy issue,” Adult Learning Australia board member Ros Bauer said.
“It’s not invisible for practitioners.”
The rise of technology is another challenge.
People who are adequate on reading and writing often nosedive in performance when numeracy is added, the committee heard.
Farmers are coming forward to get extra help on dealing with toxic chemicals, while many workers and others need help using technology.
The states may be the right place to deliver programs but the federal government needs to look across the workforce and community to anticipate needs.
Language and literacy education expert Joseph Lo Bianco called for co-ordination, standard-setting and innovation from the Commonwealth.
“Adult literacy is no longer a welfare activity by good-hearted people,” Professor Bianco said.
He said Australia was facing a historic moment.
“We have to keep in mind artificial intelligence which, combined with cyber systems, is going to require much higher levels of comprehension and functioning than we’ve ever had.”
Rapid change means learning on the job is becoming too risky, from farming to healthcare, because of the need to handle more sophisticated technology and procedures.
Skills and knowledge may also become harder to transfer to another industry, the committee heard.