Thanks to Dave Tout—senior research fellow with ACER—for this exciting and informative post with news of some welcome data that confirms the benefits to be gained from an investment in adults’ literacy and numeracy skills.
In the article, Dave:
- summarises historical research that explains why “…the challenges presented by adults with low basic skills may lead to Australia being left behind…” (OECD, 2017, p. 9)
- outlines how hard it has been historically, to gather data that shows the impact of adult literacy and numeracy programs on individuals, organisations and communities
- introduces recent research findings that show a whopping 520% return on investment in adult literacy and numeracy programs!
Want details? Read on!
LLN counts – 26TEN study into the value of investing in improving adults’ literacy and numeracy skills
by Dave Tout
A recent report from Tasmania makes very interesting reading for anyone wanting to know about the benefits and value of investing in improving adults’ literacy and numeracy skills in VET, the workplace, and as part of lifelong learning.
The social and economic benefits of investing in adult literacy and numeracy and the costs of poor adult literacy and numeracy in Australia are key policy issues and questions. In the 2000s, Robyn Hartley and Jackie Horne (2006a, 2006b) undertook reviews and analysis about the social and economic benefits of improving adult literacy, and concluded this was a challenging endeavour especially in relation to estimating the benefits across contexts such as health, finance, family relationships and crime, rather than just focusing on traditional economic areas, such as productivity and the labour market outcomes.
Based on three cycles of international assessments of adult literacy and numeracy skills (IALS, ALLS and PIAAC), research indicates, among a number of other findings, that people with higher literacy and numeracy skills are significantly more likely to be employed, to participate in their community, to experience better health, and to engage in further training. They also earn more on average (see OECD, 2013; OECD, 2016). As well, the research demonstrates that each extra year of education improves literacy and numeracy skills. The 2017 OECD country report on Australia, claimed that “the challenges presented by adults with low basic skills may lead to Australia being left behind in terms of innovation and economic growth by countries that have been more successfully investing in the skills of all their people.” (OECD, 2017, p. 9)
Putting a value on the investments and returns
There have been very few attempts in Australia though that have attempted to quantify the return on investment, especially in relation to workplace literacy and numeracy. In 2012, the Australian Industry Group contracted the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to conduct a study into the financial return to employers from investing in workplace literacy training programs. This study developed and trialled a set of data collection instruments in pilot mode with seven training programs funded under the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program. The outcomes of this research again documented the complexity and challenges of quantifying the return on investment for employers and businesses if they invest in improving the literacy and numeracy skills of their workers. This report (Brown et al, 2015) documents the process and instruments used, the positive outcomes for businesses, and also has a comprehensive review of research in this area.
New Tasmanian research via 26TEN gives a value
A new report has recently been released that has calculated the cost benefits from adult literacy and numeracy programs across Tasmania in 2018-19. This research was auspiced by 26TEN in Tasmania, a very proactive organisation that works with businesses, community groups, government, education and training providers and individuals, to support all Tasmanian adults to develop the reading, writing, numeracy and communications skills they need for life in the 21st century.
The study, called the Socio-Economic Impact of Tasmania’s Investment in Adult Literacy and Numeracy, was conducted by the Institute of Project Management. The study used a model of cost-benefit analysis to quantify the social, economic and cultural contribution that the 26TEN Tasmania Strategy makes to program participants, businesses and the broader community. The socio-economic value created by the 26TEN Tasmania Strategy in 2018-19, was estimated to be at least $27.2 million, based on an investment of $5.3 million. The report showed that the return on investment to the community from the 26TEN Tasmania Strategy in 2018-19 was at least $5.20 for every dollar spent. The report argues that investment in adult literacy improves individual and community states of physical, human, social and symbolic capital.
Some of the other outcomes reported
In examining the specific impact of the 26TEN grants and the Libraries Tasmania literacy service that were studied, the research also found that:
- Over 80 percent of literacy clients surveyed said that their opportunities for employment and further education had improved as their level of literacy improved.
- Over 90 percent of literacy clients indicated that their quality of life has improved as a result of improved functional literacy.
- Literacy clients completed an average of 50 literacy sessions. The majority were reluctant to put an end date on their participation, and many observed that each goal they achieved led to new aspirational targets.
The research wanted to be able to document that all Tasmanians, not just policy makers, can be confident that building literacy and numeracy skills in adults across the state, not only benefits those adults, but also their families, and our communities and workplaces.
It certainly appears that this has been the case!
Resources and references
Read the Report: 26TEN Tasmania – the Socio-Economic Impact of Tasmania’s Investment in Adult Literacy and Numeracy.
Brown, J., Taylor, M., McKenzie, P., & Perkins, K. (2015). Investing in Workforce Literacy Pays: Building Employer Commitment to Workplace Language, Literacy and Numeracy Programs. Australian Industry Group: Melbourne. https://research.acer.edu.au/transitions_misc/27
Hartley, Robyn. & Horne, Jackie, (2006a) Researching Literacy and Numeracy Costs and Benefits: What is possible. Literacy and Numeracy Studies: An international journal in the education and training of adults, Vol 15 No 1, 2006 https://doi.org/10.5130/lns.v15i1.2024
Hartley, Robyn. & Horne, Jackie. (2006b). Social and economic benefits of improved adult literacy : towards a better understanding. Adelaide, S. Aust : NCVER https://ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/publications/all-publications/social-and-economic-benefits-of-improved-adult-literacy-towards-a-better-understanding
Muller, Paul & Knapp, Don (2020). The Socio-Economic Impact of Tasmania’s Investment in Adult Literacy and Numeracy July 2018 – June 2019. Institute of Project Management. https://26ten.tas.gov.au/resources/Documents/SocioEconomicImpactTasmaniasInvestmentAdultLiteracyNumeracy.PDF
OECD. (2013). OECD skills outlook 2013: First results from the survey of adult skills. Paris: OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en
OECD. (2016). Skills matter: Further results from the survey of adult skills. OECD skills studies. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264258051-en
OECD. (2017). Building skills for all in Australia: Policy insights from the survey of adult skills.OECD skills studies. Paris: OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264281110-en
OECD (2019). Skills matter: Additional results from the Survey of Adult Skills, Paris: OECD Skills Studies series. OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/1f029d8f-en