The publication of the results of the International Adult Literacy Survey (1997) provided Ireland with its first profile of literacy skills of Irish adults aged 16-64 years. The focus in quantitative literacy was on the knowledge and skills needed to apply arithmetic operations. As well as the processing of printed information, the difficulty of such tasks was influenced by the following factors:

  • the particular arithmetic operations required to complete the task;
  • the number of operations needed to perform the task;
  • the extent to which the numbers are embedded in printed materials; and
  • the extent to which inferences must be made in order to identify the particular kind of arithmetic operation to be performed (IALS, 1997:p36)

The IALS findings showed that only 25% of the population performed at the lowest end of literacy and numeracy skills and had scored at level 1. Scoring at level 1 of the IALS indicated the person had profound literacy and numeracy difficulties. It requires performing a single relatively simple operation, usually addition. The IALS data also showed that people with the most profound literacy and numeracy difficulties were the least likely to be involved in education or training.

The publication of the IALS 1997 led to Government recognition of the importance of improving adult literacy levels in Ireland. The Green Paper on Adult Education (1998) outlined the need for the development of the adult literacy service as a whole. The White Paper Learning for Life (DES, 2000) set out a holistic approach to the development of a national programme for adult education and established the National Adult Literacy Programme.

The White Paper on Adult Education featured the important role of literacy and numeracy in lifelong learning policy and practice. The overall aim was to increase the number of adult learners into the adult literacy service, prioritise those with the lowest literacy levels and implement a quality framework to monitor the effectiveness of the service. In order to help achieve this aim, the White Paper documented the need for highly trained adult educators to strengthen the Adult Education sector.

In an effort to put a focus on numeracy as distinct from literacy the national Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) published a Numeracy Strategy (Meeting the Numeracy Challenge) in 2004.  NALA defines numeracy as follows:

Numeracy is a life skill that involves the competent use of mathematical language, knowledge and skills. Numerate adults have the confidence to manage the mathematical demands of real life situations such as everyday living, work related settings and in further education, so that effective choices are made in our evolving technology and knowledge based society’’ (NALA,2004).

NALA’s strategy identified the following key elements in relation to numeracy.

  • a need to develop tutor training;
  • greater independent focus on numeracy;
  • development of specific training programmes;
  • delivery of accredited programmes; and
  • requirement to facilitate tutor CPD (NALA, 2004).

NALA in partnership with Institute of technology Tallaght completed a survey of the professional development needs of Irish numeracy tutors, Doing the maths: the training needs of numeracy tutors, 2013 and beyond.  The report highlights the growing need for additional professional development as tutors work with new adult mathematics accredited frameworks and new technologies.

Changing landscape

Adult numeracy in the main is delivered through Vocational Education Committees currently being amalgamated into a small number of Training and Education Boards.

The Further Education and Training (SOLAS) Bill 2013 provides for the establishment of an education and training authority (SOLAS) which will co-ordinate and fund Further Education and Training (FET) in Ireland.  It is not certain what impact these changes will have on services and provision in Ireland into the future.

Publications and Links

The National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy Among Young People 2011-2020

Doing the maths: the training needs of numeracy tutors, 2013 and beyond

Literacy and numeracy difficulties in the Irish workplace: Impact on earnings and training expenditures

Various Publications on Literacy and Numeracy


National Adult Literacy Agency

National Centre for Excellence in Teaching mathematics and Science

Developing Maths Eyes

Adult Maths