Researching Literacy and Numeracy Costs and Benefits: What is possible

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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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Author Biographies

Robyn Hartley, Independent Researcher

Robyn Hartley has for many years been a freelance researcher. Her research interests span the tertiary and vocational education sectors and she has a long term interest in and commitment to adult and community education.

Jackie Horne

Jackie Horne has over ten years experience of conducting economic and social research and analysis. She was employed as an economist within the UK Government Economic Service and as a researcher for the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). During a sabbatical to Australia in 2004/05, Jackie worked on a literature review on the social and economic benefits of improved adult literacy for the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL) and a systematic review for the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. Since returning to the UK, Jackie worked briefly for the Scottish Arts Council and is now a researcher within the Scottish Executive Education Department.