Adult literacy and numeracy

Literacy and numeracy have a direct impact on people’s ability

to find and keep jobs, progress in careers, manage their

health, participate in society, and make full use of services

and opportunities available to them.

Our modern economy and society demand high levels of

literacy and numeracy. People with low literacy skills are more

vulnerable to unemployment as low skilled jobs disappear in

the face of technological change and globalisation.

Modern workplaces demand higher levels of literacy

from their workers, including higher levels of information

processing, digital literacy and communication. Information

and services are increasingly going online so that the

disadvantage of being offline grows and leaves people

without digital skills at risk of being left behind.

In order to remain in the workforce, access services and

actively engage in social and community life adults need to

continue to access learning opportunities and build new skills.


The OECD’s PIAAC survey, which measures key cognitive and

workplace skills, found that around 44% of Australian adults

lack the literacy skills required in everyday life.

Of these, 1 in 7 Australians (14%) have very poor literacy skills

and 1 in 3 (30%) have below-proficiency level literacy making

them vulnerable to unemployment. Many more struggle with

numeracy, with around 53% of the population at belowproficiency



For many Australians the literacy they were taught in school

is not enough to keep up with changes in the society we

live in. For example, technological changes have affected

workplaces and government services and place higher

demands on an adult’s capacity to read, process and

communicate information.


• People aged 45+ had much lower literacy and numeracy

than younger adults.

• Women performed poorly in numeracy relative to men.

• People outside the workforce had much poorer literacy

and numeracy compared to those who were working or

looking for work.

• Indigenous Australians; particularly in remote areas, have

lower literacy levels than non-Indigenous Australians.


• Individuals: Better quality of life, job prospects, income

level, health and social engagement

Families: Improved performance for children at school

• Communities: Greater resilience and wealth

• Businesses: Increased productivity


Educational experts agree that that adults develop their

literacy and numeracy skills for particular contexts and in

order to get something done either in the workplace, the

home or the community. But people with literacy problems

can often be reluctant to seek help. Successful adult literacy

and numeracy programs need to be practical, purposeful and

designed with the individual’s needs in mind.

Adult and community education (ACE) literacy programs are

successful because they build literacy skills through real life

activities such as cooking or home maintenance. They also

deliver formal learning programs including certificates in

general education for adults and foundation skills.

Most states and territories recognise the importance of ACE

in delivering language, literacy and numeracy programs.

Down load our latest fact sheet here