Researching Literacy and Numeracy Costs and Benefits: What is possible

Robyn Hartley
Jackie Horne


Assessing the social and economic benefits of investing in adult literacy and numeracy and the costs of poor adult literacy and numeracy, is largely uncharted territory in Australia. Some interest was evident in the late 1980s leading up to International Literacy Year, 1990 (for example, Miltenyi 1989, Singh 1989, Hartley 1989); however, there has been little work done in the area since then, with the exception of recent studies concerned with financial literacy costs and benefits (Commonwealth Bank Foundation 2005). Assessing the benefits (returns) of workplace training in general has received some attention (for example Moy and McDonald 2000), although the role of literacy and numeracy is often implied rather than explored in any detail.
In contrast, there is a considerable body of relevant research emanating from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and some European countries. The release of data from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) in the 1990s contributed to some of this research, as did policy developments for example, in the United Kingdom. The much greater use of IALS data in some other countries compared with Australia, seems to be related to a combination of factors in the overall policy and research environment for adult literacy and numeracy in each country.

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