The Premier’s Real Reading Challenge – National Year of Reading Ambassadors Axe State Literacy Program

It’s easy to become an ambassador these days. If you do the right job – model, politician, Olympian, sometimes even writer – or show your face enough, there’s a chance someone’ll ask you to be one. Maybe even lots of people. Maybe even so many that, if you keep saying yes, you risk becoming ambassador for the National Year of Lip Service (if it’s Tuesday, it must be prostate cancer …). Until now I thought lip service was as low as ambassadorial form got (with the possible exception of getting hammered at the cocktail fundraiser and dacking the mascot or making a seriously unwelcome move on Miss Fork Muffin Day just after you’ve presented her with her sash).

Late last year, when I was approached to become an ambassador for the National Year of Reading, I knew it was something I should get behind. Books are what I do, reading is something I love and literacy is one of life’s most crucial skills. The real clincher for me was a statement based on recent ABS stats*: ‘47% of Queenslanders cannot read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables, or understand instructions on a medicine bottle’. I assumed it was 4.7% and they’d missed out the decimal point. Wrong. It is 47%. (And, non-Queenslanders, don’t go thinking things are much better where you are.)

So I took the somewhat daggy free ambassador T shirt and I signed up. That meant a commitment to a pic and interview for the website, four free talks and an agreement to speak up when the opportunity arose. I’m this week’s featured ambassador, and I’m calling that an opportunity.

I thought my week would see me doing something along the ‘rah rah books are great’ line. They are great (some of them, including mine obviously). But some people can’t read books, and much more, and it’s those people I want to focus on today.

I share my ambassador status with three Queensland government ministers. Here’s what they say NYR means to them:

Campbell Newman (Premier): ‘I’m delighted to feature as an ambassador for the National Year of Reading. It’s timely too as the Premier’s Reading Challenge was recently launched in Queensland, an initiative I believe will provide a wonderful opportunity to focus on improving the literacy standards of our young students.’

Ros Bates (Arts): ‘I am very honored to be a National Year of Reading ambassador on behalf of the State Library of Queensland. The Library is to be congratulated for its excellent writing and literacy programs, which it rolls out across the state.’

John-Paul Langbroek (Education, Training and Employment): ‘It is a great honour to accept the position as a Queensland Ambassador for the National Year of Reading.’

Honour/honor and delight about being involved – we should be glad to see a sizeable chunk of the state cabinet rushing to be pro-reading. If only their actions lived up to that.

Because here’s the Premier’s new reading challenge. Not the one featuring Campbell grinning over a picture book, with schoolkids clustered around him in varying degrees of uncertainty. This one features the 47% of Queenslanders who can’t read as well as they need to.

On 16 July, John-Paul Langbroek put out a media release announcing the canning of the Skilling Queenslanders for Work initiative. 144 public service jobs are to go and the usual language of this government was used: ‘Skilling Queenslanders for Work programs are not front line positions’. So, more shiny bums, being slung out into the winds of George Street (or in this case Mary Street)? Sorry guys, that rhetoric’s already worn thin and we’re starting to look closely at the fine print.

In another quote from the minister in the same media release, ‘Employment services are the responsibility of the Federal Government and … we need to end this type of needless duplication’.

Needless duplication cleverly terminated? Well, no, as it turns out. To quote the state government’s website on one particular SQW program that I’ll explore in more detail below – though it applies to other parts of SQW too – it ‘primarily assists Queensland residents who are ineligible to access assistance from Australian Government funded service providers’.

So, were the SQW programs axed because they were duds? Also no. In the Courier-Mail, the minister said they’re ‘great programs’ and in the media release he says they were cut because we ‘cannot afford’ them.

So, it’s about saving money then? How does that rationale stack up? Also not so well. Here’s how Deloitte Access Economics sees it: ‘The annual outlay by Queensland on SQW is returned to the state within a year of program completion, in terms of both increased earnings and value added.’ Simple as that. These programs make money.

In the period 2007/08 to 2009/10, 57,000 people gained employment through SQW. Employment – that’s when people who have been relying on benefits earn wages, pay tax and spend.

I’m sure no one needs persuading about the social benefits of employment, and the economic benefits are huge. And in this case quantifiable. If it’s about the numbers, minister, here’s some that are worth a look. By 2020, had it continued, Deloitte Access Economics estimates this $53m initiative would have contributed $6.5b to the Queensland economy and generated $1.2b in state taxes. It’s a wealth builder, a capacity builder and a self-esteem builder.

When the opposition raised the success of SQW in parliament on 22 August, John-Paul Langbroek, forgetting for a moment that these were ‘great programs’ called Labor ‘fiscal incompetents’ for spending more on job creation than South Australia. They might also have spent more than Guam, Bratislava and who knows where else, but what kind of measure is that exactly? The programs put loads of people in work and generate more tax revenue than they cost.

‘Don’t worry about the outcomes, just keep funding it,’ he said, presumably inferring that was the Labor attitude. But plenty of us worry about the outcomes minister, and call us all fiscal incompetents if you want to – Labor, me, Deloitte Access Economics, the Courier-Mail – but the numbers make it pretty clear that the outcomes are great. And surely you know that, since you’re not, um, a fiscal incompetent, are you?

But why draw all that into a piece about the National Year of Reading? Part of SQW is/was the $2m Community Literacy Program ‘to help disadvantaged jobseekers develop and improve their language, literacy and numeracy skills’.

So, in the National Year of Reading, three ambassadors are right at the heart of a government that axes a literacy program for disadvantaged people. One is the relevant minister, one is the premier, one is the minister representing the libraries that run many of our community literacy programs.

Here’s how that money’s spent, or at least some of it – $100,000 a year for a community literacy program run from a regional library service north of Brisbane. That money funds:
• specialist adult literacy staff (one permanent and three casual)
• training of volunteers (who must complete certified short course 30979QLD in Volunteer Community Adult Literacy Tutoring)
• provision of specialist resources
• admin support (such as photocopying of lesson materials) and
• insurance.

There are currently 100 or more active volunteers – now trained literacy experts, giving their time for nothing.

The program operates across seven venues in its region, each week offering four core literacy classes, three conversational English classes and close to 200 hours of the volunteer tutor time that allows intensive 1:1 tutoring, with lesson plans customised for each participant.

The program receives referrals from job placement and other agencies, and no other program exists that can deliver what it delivers.

In 2011, it gave regular, focused and personalised assistance to around 200 participants, 148 funded by SQW and fifty or more unfunded. The students enrol in the 30719QLD Course in Adult Literacy and Numeracy. Over the past year, 178 were enrolled in a module of the course and 122 completed a module (some students take two years to complete a module).

As a result of their achievements in the program, many participants were able to keep jobs they were in danger of losing. Others became eligible for (and achieved) promotion. Some got their first ever jobs, some went into further training, some became volunteers in their community. All benefited from a boost in self-esteem and an increased mastery of their environments and access to information. And all at a cost in the order of hundreds of dollars per participant (a cost we know will be dwarfed by the economic benefit).

Premier, in the National Year of Reading, you and two of your ministers have signed up as ambassadors and mouthed the requisite pro-reading statements, while at the same time taking action that will deny literacy to thousands of people across the state who badly need it.

You will keep people out of jobs. You will stand in the way of them learning. You will limit their capacity to contribute. You will diminish their opportunities and their families’ opportunities.

You talk a lot about front-line services. If literacy isn’t front-line, ambassadors, what is?

I realise it’s awkward for the National Year of Reading coordinators to have one ambassador going rogue and turning on three others. That’s why I’ve kept this post from them until it’s gone live – it’s entirely my responsibility and not theirs. I can’t say if they’ll be filthy with me, crapping themselves at the thought of ambassadorial T shirts shredding in the scuffle, or able to see my point and why I need to make it. (I expect I’ll find out soon enough …)

But I can’t let my week as ambassador be about lip service. If it’s 3 September, it must be, um, [pauses to check diary … men’s sheds? … endangered fluffy animals? … oh, wait, there it is now …] reading. No. I need to do better. And, while this week is also Brisbane Writers Festival and this month is the big month for Get Reading and I’ll be doing plenty of ‘rah rah books are great’ – and sincerely too – I can’t let that be all I do.

Premier and ministers, the best thing I can do in my featured week to live up to my commitment as an ambassador is to tell people what your government is doing and how misguided you are in doing it, and that you need to hand back your T shirts or reverse this decision now.

Skilling Queenslanders for Work is an investment in people that comes with the bonus of giving the state an investment-grade financial return. To quote John-Paul Langbroek again, this time from one of two excellent Courier-Mail articles on the subject by Paul Syvret (and while not mouthing off in parliament): ‘Honestly they are great programs … helping a lot of people who up until now would have had no opportunity’. From the end of this year, courtesy of this government, those people will once again have no opportunity.

I know the premier’s said the only negative mail he gets is form letters from unions, but it’s time for those of us who have and value literacy skills to put them to work and let him know that we need this changed. Do it now please.

Contact details:
The Premier
actual printed letter: PO Box 15185, City East, Queensland 4002

The Minister for Education, Training and Employment
actual printed letter: PO Box 15033, City East, Queensland 4002

Please contact them, and please get everyone you know to do the same. Please copy and paste this post at will to tell your friends about this issue, or send them here. Please tweet about it and retweet.

It’s time to help these politicians see sense before their ambassador invitations arrive from the team at World Hypocrisy Day. Meanwhile I’m happy to announce that my new T shirt’s just arrived and I’m the first official signing for National Cranky Ambassador Week.


* The statement quoted came from the State Library of Queensland’s invitation sent last November to a breakfast in February to launch the National Year of Reading. It’s since been the subject of some debate, but the quote is a copy-and-paste from that invitation, and is included in this blog as it was my motivation to ramp up my level of commitment. The quote is very similar, though not identical, to one that appears on the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012 Yearbook web page on the National Year of Reading: ‘The alarming 2006 ABS statistic that just under half (46%) of adult Australians cannot confidently read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, was a motivator for Australian libraries to found the National Year of Reading’. Anyone who would like to discuss these stats in more detail, or the ABS’s presentation of them, or SLQ’s presentation of them, is welcome to do that with those organisations.

My point is about literacy, and NYR ambassadors defunding an important program that is delivering results.

Life now regularly requires high levels of documentary literacy, and many people don’t have these skills. Some of those people have still lower levels of literacy skills. I believe anyone who has the courage to put up their hand and ask for help to develop their literacy skills should be able to get that help. We have had a system that was helping then, at a cost of only hundreds of dollars per person per year (a cost more than offset by the financial benefits to us all of increased levels of literacy).

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58 Responses to The Premier’s Real Reading Challenge – National Year of Reading Ambassadors Axe State Literacy Program

  1. Meredith says:

    Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention Nick, and for providing all those details to make it easy for us to let the Premier know exactly how we feel about his thoughtless actions, and rhetoric.

  2. Applause! You are a worthy ambassador and thank you for saying what needs to be said.

  3. Quokka says:

    Thank you so much for explaining to me the results of the recent Qld elections.
    If 47% of the population can’t read it makes complete sense that they’ll vote for people who can’t count.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Nick. I’ve sent in my rant, and I’ll encourage others to do the same.

  5. Great post Nick, thanks for pointing out these things. I think that it’s quite clear that most governments (conservative moreso, but really all now) have decided that nothing important can really be afforded anymore.

    And in a more self-interested way, they’ve decided that an ignorant electorate will more reliably vote for them. Educating people never helped get you re-elected, I say with sad sarcasm.

  6. Cally Jackson says:

    Excellent post, Nick. Good on you for having the courage to write it. It’s posts like this that will help people see through the lip service.

  7. Thanks for this great post. May i suggest you join Qld Uncut – there is a rally coming up 1pm 22nd Sept – you would be a great speaker!

  8. Nathan Langford says:

    Dear Nick,

    Can you please tell us more about where the 47% statistic comes from and what its specifically describes? I would very much like to email the Newman et al as you suggest, but I would like to have good sources to be able to use when I do.

    Kind regards,
    Nathan Langford.

    • nickearls says:

      The stat comes from the ABS, via the State Library of Qld. I can’t find the page with state stats, but the national figure is 46% and here’s an ABS article that gives that and quite a bit of background:

      • The reference is: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006). Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 4228.0., accessed 12.4.12 Table 3: Skill Level, by State or Territory of usual residence, pp. 23 – 24

      • College Roader says:

        Hi Nick
        Big fan of your work and of the drive behind this essay. But I worry that your reference to 46-47% of *Queenslanders* not being able to read is obscuring your point, in this way: the real worry is that this is the figure for *the whole country*. We shouldn’t let people (like Germaine Greer) make fun of Queenslanders *in particular* for this when it’s a major problem facing the country as a whole. Southerners are focussing on your reference to Queenslanders when the problem is one that should worry all of us as Australians.
        Of course, your concern is with Queensland (as it should be!) but I just think it’s important that we not confuse national statistics based on all Australians’ reading ability with statistics drawing only on Queensland data.
        I just don’t want there to be any chance for southern anti-Queenslandism to become the focus of this story instead of shocking literacy problems all over the country.

      • nickearls says:

        Must admit I thought I’d covered that by immediately pointing out that the figures aren’t much better elsewhere. With the Qld figure 47% and the national figure 46%, I’d be surprised if that difference was statistically significant. But I don’t know for certain so I didn’t say that. I totally agree the problem’s national, but Qld was my focus for this piece since I’m a Qld ambassador rather than a national one, it was the Qld government with three state ambassadors that cut a state-based program and it seemed a better fit to use the figure for the relevant population. Having seen some of the comments posted in response to the reposting of this piece on the Brisbane Times website, I expect I would have drawn criticism from some readers had I talked about Qld and used the national stats. And if I’d said 46% and 47% were effectively no different, the same would have happened. You might be surprised the small things people choose to pick at, rather than pushing to deal with the real issue.

        I’m surprised that anyone would see literacy issues as an opportunity for a gag. And the last person whose response I’d try to anticipate would be Germaine’s.

        From the media response I see, most of the focus seems to be on literacy and the rest on the cutting of the program. The only way to ensure that media and public figures don’t misuse a stat or misinterpret something is to stay silent, and I wasn’t prepared to do that. If we had to subject everything to the ‘What might Germaine do with this?’ test, we’d all be saying nothing.

        But, yes, let’s face this nationally and change it nationally.

  9. Pat Bourke says:

    Thanks Nick. As an ex teacher , I am very aware that many people leave school without having had the extra help learning support that proper funding could provide. In the world of work today where credentials I.e pieces of paper are seen as essential, there are many people who need extra support to.keep their skills up to date. On low incomes they are often unable to access courses in educational institutions and rely on help from programs such as the Sunshine Coast Libraries Adult Literacy course which trains and deploys volunteer tutors to work within the community. Why take the funding away? To balance a State budget because unemployment benefits are a Federal expense? Saving money at the expense of people’s independence and self esteem?

  10. Vince says:

    Well said Nick,
    My wife is a volunteer tutor in a literacy program and sees the benefits of such a program positively impacting on the daily lives of the students.
    Apart from the obvious economic benefits in return on investment, the social benefits to the individual and society are a hundred fold.
    I recommend the entire State Cabinet study Economics 101 and learn about the multiplier effect of both financial and social investment in literacy education.
    vjb (one of the fortunate 53%)

  11. Christina says:

    Crickey! What a horrible statistic! Good on you for posting this, it’s absolutely essential to put this information out. Thank you!

  12. chris says:

    Thank you Nick. It is about time someone called out the value of social programs that are privide such valuable ROI, particularly literacy. You are the type of embassador we need!

  13. Thank you for speaking out with vengeance, Nick.
    The more this despot, Campbell Newman is exposed the better. I reckon he should\’ve been stripped of his Ambassadorship, publicly!
    Before becoming an author, I worked in adult literacy – it is a huge problem in Australia (and my work involved people who were born here speaking English). Australians who identify and step forward to get literacy help as adults are only the tip of the illiteracy iceberg.

  14. Well put Nick, a big kiss and hug to you for telling it like it is. The perfect Ambassador is the one who stands his ground and defends the importance of what he/she represents.

  15. Beryl Exley says:

    Maintain the rage — this is important stuff Nick!

  16. Great post, Nick. Thank you.

  17. antea42 says:

    Scary statistics. I am wondering how Australian schools are ranked 7th worldwide for reading, with the PM now aiming at 5th spot?

  18. angelasunde says:

    Thank you for being a man of integrity. I am proud to know you.

  19. Georgie says:

    I’m deeply involved in the NYR program (in another State) & while you’re correct that this column will casue a bit of heartburn it had to be written. You’re the perfect Ambassador – passionate, well informed & prepared to speak out on behalf of the 47% & the intent of the Year to enhance literacy throughout Australia. So thanks for this – on balance I personally believe that this is a positive contribution to the NYR.

  20. Go, Nick. Brilliant post. Great to have someone raise the bar for everyone who gives lip-service to supporting literacy (me included).

  21. Cate says:

    Great post. I have written to the Premier, whether or not he will heed, well I think we know the answer.

  22. Maureen O'Shea says:

    A standing ovation for that piece, young man! Thank you. I feel quite cleansed. Apart from the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program, there are also others, equally beneficial to ordinary people, that will be dropped by the Qld govt. I’m only sorry we couldn’t have raged about the “awesomeness” of these programs before they got axed.

  23. Lisa G says:

    Nick, I thank you for speaking out, for giving an amazing run down and it may not stop the current slashing and burning but it will do an excellent job raising awareness. You have done the perfect job as an Ambassador writing this. Thank you!!!

  24. Corey says:

    Firstly, thank you Nick. Your honesty and willingness to bring this stupidity to the fore is to be applauded!
    Some further Info:

  25. Sharon says:

    A very sobering article on this subject. Thank you for such a concise evaluation of this deplorable decision, one among many.

  26. Emma says:

    As a former adult literacy volunteer and a current school literacy volunteer, thank you so much for speaking out. To me literacy is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person.

  27. Sherry says:

    Thanks for your article Nick – very informative. But why are so many of our children leaving school functionally illiterate? Reading is something that should be mastered by year 2 or 3 at the latest. It’s an appalling reflection on our schools that a substantial percentage of their pupils are not mastering basic literacy during their primary school years. What is being done to address this?

    • reynardo says:

      I can answer that from my experience in similar areas. Most of the 47% will be people who either went through the school system so long ago that it was possible for them to have reached 15 (the old leaving age) without great reading skills. Or they were in areas where there weren’t great schools, or many of them (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) weren’t allowed in the schools. Or they’ve come from other countries where they may have had functional literacy in their own language, but been unable to translate this into something they can use in English. Or they are people with special needs, who nowadays would be catered for (one hopes) with aides and specialist training and with the aim of giving them the skills they need, but who in the past were shunted into the back of the room and ignored, even if their need was physical and they were perfectly mentally capable of learning this stuff.

      These days, it’s not going to be such a problem. But the neglect of the past has come back to bite us, hard.

  28. If anyone would like more information to help them write letters, the Lifelong Learning Council Queensland has posted a document: Local for Learning – Statement on Adult Literacy in Queensland and Adult Community Education, on it’s website:

    We are proposing a new and expanded program designed to roll out adult literacy programs in local community settings across Queensland targeting areas of need in the first instance.

    • suzanne altman says:

      Suzanne Altman here. I am an Adult Literacy Tutor.
      I want to help. Tell me when, where, and how I can be useful and, if it’s physically possible, I shall get on board.
      Keep up the good work!
      KALA : Keep Adult Literacy Alive!
      my email is:
      All the best

      • nickearls says:

        Hi Suzanne, I think the public needs to hear more about your work. I’ve heard that Steve Austin might be covering this on 612 ABC Brisbane this morning and, if so, it’d be really good to have a tutor’s point of view. Maybe you could call in? Even if he’s not planning to cover it, maybe you could contact the ABC, since they’re taking an interest in the issue.

        Beyond that, I think we need to keep talking about this in the media, keep writing to our MPs (local and the relevant ministers) and encouraging everyone else we know to do the same. With the republication of this post on the Brisbane Times site yesterday, the issue’s getting more attention and I think we need to keep the momentum going.

  29. Merv Gardner says:

    Thanks Nick for your brave effort. Here is a generalised but sobering stat nonetheless, the 92% of school leavers who achieved the benchmark for literacy in the NAPLAN tests only 55% of 17 to 24 y/o have the literacy skills for the 21st century workplace (ABS). And we thought we were the poor cousins under the Bligh Gov’t with funding of only $0.70 per adult in Qld for community adult literacy when states such as Tasmania and South Australia fund community literacy over $10 per adult. How lucky were we, now we have none. Defunded but not defeated at Caboolture.

  30. Deirdre Baker says:

    As a past statewide Manager of the Community Literacy Program in Queensland I know full well the invaluable role it played in reaching many people in remote places in this state. I fought for years to grow and retain this program while I served in government and now it is hard to believe it has been defunded….and in the Year of Literacy. So many will be left with no learning opportunities in so many communities.

  31. suzanne altman says:

    This is gold!

  32. Pingback: The Premier’s Real Reading Challenge – National Year of Reading Ambassadors Axe State Literacy Program « Fun Fair

  33. Anna de Oliveira says:

    I have been teaching the course 30719QLD Literacy and Numeracy with a community learning centre for the past two years. It saddens me to know that Queenslanders are being denied opportunities to learn skills which will greatly benefit their lives and those of their families because of LNP funding cuts. Thank you Nick for highlighting this issue.

  34. Gwen Rayner says:

    It is about time that someone spoke out related to what is going on in Queensland and I fully support your comments and concerns. I don’t know whether you are also aware that a Queensland Education Program called Ready Readers has also been axed by the Queensland Government at the end of this school term. The Queensland “Ready Readers program trains community volunteers to support students in early reading programs in Queensland schools.
    Volunteers work with individual children to support them with their reading and help build their confidence” (Taken from website). This program was also using trained volunteers to help and support children in their early years learn to read. No Queensland LNP politician can be an Ambassador for the National Year of Reading axing such important programs. They are truly hypocricital.

    • nickearls says:

      Thanks Gwen. I wasn’t aware of Ready Readers, though a comment someone made yesterday might have applied to it without the name being mentioned. Even now I’m surprised that the Premier can go out there promoting the Premier’s Reading Challenge and the government can axe a program that directly dovetails into it. This needs to be part of the debate too. I’ve heard Steve Austin might be looking at literacy programs on ABC radio this morning. Since you know about this particular program, how would you feel about calling him and telling him about it?

  35. Kathryn says:

    THANK YOU!!!

    I wrote the following to the premier:

    “I was aghast when I read Nick Earl’s article as reading ambassador this morning!

    Firstly, I COULDN’T COMPREHEND that with 47%(!!) of Queenslanders lacking in adequate literacy skills, this was somehow not a STATE OF EMERGENCY issue! (?!?)
    (Apparently this should be a NATIONAL emergency, but that does NOT take away the onus of states, who collect state taxes, to care for the well-being of their constituents. Otherwise one might ask, why do we need govt??)…

    Secondly, you should all be ASHAMED that your politicking has so severely impeded any semblance of good judgement on this issue!
    I’ve begun to expect politicians to sacrifice the true needs of it’s public constituents for the sake of the almighty dollar, BUT HONESTLY – axing a programme that was actually MAKING YOU MONEY while you helped the public where it needed it most???

    I second the call to hand back your ambassadors t-shirts or reverse this decision.
    Hell, it could even give you some good PR, you nutters.


  36. Thanks for your post Nick. You raised the profile on an issue many people have been working on for some time.

    The Lifelong Learning Council Queensland has developed a proposal : Local for Learning that we have submitted to the new Government to start seriously addressing Adult Literacy in Queensland.  

    Part of the issue is that the former Queensland Government under-utilised and largely ignored an area of pre-vocational community-based adult education, known interstate as Adult and Community Education, aka ACE. It chose instead to develop employment programs through Skilling Queenslanders for Work (SQW). The Community Literacy Program became included in this. These programs have had many good outcomes, though didn’t offer much support by way of developing the capacity to deliver programs.  

    In effect, SQW should have been compared to ACE programs in other States, rather than the lack of employment programs. If this comparison had happened, it may well have been harder to justify the axing of the program. Other States do invest in ACE, and some of the programs are employment related.  

    The Government’s decision, unfortunate as it is, now offers an opportunity to develop a new adult pre-vocational program that is grounded in local community organisations delivering to locals. This helps keep assets for learning in local communities and helps build community infrastructure and resources.  

    Let’s hope that the work you’ve been doing raising the issues helps the new Government see how important it is to start acting quickly on adult literacy. For info see:  

    Thanks again for your thoughtful blog.

  37. Martin Davies-Roundhill says:

    I wanted to reply and as I scanned down all the comments it seems most responses assume 47% is bad? Who decides how many of should read. I love it, but many of the people I have met would rather die than read a book, and they really only read the signs about them when forced. So why fight it . Accept that 47 or 28 or 5 % of people dont read.
    I also see an evolutionary basis in this as could a society exist if there was no ignorance, if everyone was informed?

    • Bernadette Nicoll says:

      What a defeatist attitude that 47% of the population don’t read so we just accept it. Peoples ability to construct sentences and write comes from reading. New words are discovered from reading. Do we want a society that can only communicate through shortened text? We need to read history so we can try not to repeat it and recognise when we are repeating it. People lose so much by not reading. I think it is worth while promoting more people reading

    • Nathan says:

      Leaving aside the (in my opinion) questionable assertion that society couldn’t exist or function effectively if everyone were “informed” or well educated, I don’t think anyone posting responses to this blog is connecting “illiteracy” with “ignorance” and “literacy” with being “informed”. This issue is about whether people can read at the level required to navigate the necessary details of life, not about whether they are informed or otherwise.

      • Bernadette Nicoll says:

        You have really got to the guts of the matter. That there are a number of people who cannot read to a competency to cope with the modern complex society with the number of things we need to read. The fist principle of contract law when I did it in law school was that you always need to read the contract. If someone cannot read or understand what they are reading how can they give consent or deal with contract. A number of people rent. If one cannot read or understand lease conditions how can they sign a lease agreeing to the conditions. Reading is an important part of life.

  38. Bernadette Nicoll says:

    I congratulate you on your statements about reading. I was born severely dyslexic but I was remediated. I read a lot now and enjoy it very much. It is unbelievable that 47% of people cannot read. I was so shocked at that figure. They miss out on so much enjoyment as well as practical life skills.

  39. Georgina Konstanta says:

    Thank you Nick for your brave article. I am involved in NYR in another state and strongly feel that ambasssadors have a responsibility to walk the walk not just talk the talk. A true ambassador is one who promotes his cause with passion and integrity. Nick, your words and your actions are testimony to your value as an ambassador.

  40. Jane Doe says:

    Hi Nick,

    Care to respond to the following article that claims the adult literacy numbers in your article are not correct?

    The article states that 14.7% of readers can’t read a newspaper or a medicine bottle and another 32 per cent struggle with things like lease documents, tax advice and Centrelink forms.

    As a Queenslander, I am not happy with what Campbell Newmann and the Liberal National party are doing to our state. I believe that the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program should remain as it is a great investment for the state. I don’t think that incorrect statistics help the case.

    • nickearls says:

      Hi there,

      Here’s a link to the page on the ABS website (yearbook Australia 2012) about the National Year of Reading:

      And here’s a specific statement that appears on that page: ‘The alarming 2006 ABS statistic that just under half (46%) of adult Australians cannot confidently read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle, was a motivator for Australian libraries to found the National Year of Reading.’ I gather from comments made by someone from the ABS on Friday that the various states and territories vary between 44% and 49%, with Qld on 47%. The statement I quoted was provided to me by the State Library of Qld and attributed by them to the ABS. It was part of me signing up to be an ambassador, and it was referring to it in the context of my motivation to become one.

      Anyone who thinks the big issue here is with this statement and the data from which it’s derived is, I’m sure, welcome to take it up with the ABS.

      I’d like it if we all had whatever literacy skills we needed to get through life and make the most of it, but too many of us don’t. Life often involves complicated documents and, if 47% of people can’t work with them (however we choose to define them or whatever examples we give), I think that’s an issue. But, from what I’ve heard, much of the literacy tutoring that’s being cancelled involved people with much lower literacy levels, and I think it’s unfair to see them losing that opportunity. I think that’s a bigger issue than the ABS presenting interpretations of its data that are worded in a number of different ways.

      I don’t know if we can turn the government’s decision around on SQW, but please let them know you think that should happen.

      • Bernadette Nicoll says:

        Who cares what the most accurate statistic is. 14.7% is still unacceptable. The problem has been identified and needs people to assist in improving the literacy through writing to politicians, volunteering to help people read or going out and sprouting the message to their friends and local community that we need to do something about this.

  41. Readamblings says:

    Round of applause.

  42. Folks are dumb where I come from says:
  43. Excellent post. Excellent. Thank you for making this hypocrisy public. I don’t live in Queensland (I live in Canada), but I know people who do, and I will be directing them to your post.

  44. Pingback: Stealing fire from the gods: Keynote address to Canberra Early Literacy Conference | Books and Adventures

  45. Pingback: Finding Library Futures, 5: “I Was Elected To Lead, Not To Read” – Thoughts On Library Leadership | Books and Adventures

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