Seven million are offered tests to tackle illiteracy

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The Independent Online

Seven million adults are to be offered tests in everyday skills to help cut the number of people unable to cope with basic reading, writing and mathematics. The tests, to be made available from 2001, are likely to be published on the Internet and digital television as part of the Government's drive to cut the number of people who are deemed to be "functionally illiterate". Yesterday the Government-backed Basic Skills Agency published its proposed standards for basic literacy and numeracy which will form the basis of the tests. The standards are equivalent to the work expected of 11-year-olds at school, and are based on actual examples of work in mathematics and English. But there are also three "stepping-stone" standards for people with very poor skills, designed to help them improve. Officials hope the tests will encourage people to brush up on their skills and give those who have never passed an exam a nationally-recognised certificate to reward their work. An international study showed that

Seven million adults are to be offered tests in everyday skills to help cut the number of people unable to cope with basic reading, writing and mathematics. The tests, to be made available from 2001, are likely to be published on the Internet and digital television as part of the Government's drive to cut the number of people who are deemed to be "functionally illiterate". Yesterday the Government-backed Basic Skills Agency published its proposed standards for basic literacy and numeracy which will form the basis of the tests. The standards are equivalent to the work expected of 11-year-olds at school, and are based on actual examples of work in mathematics and English. But there are also three "stepping-stone" standards for people with very poor skills, designed to help them improve. Officials hope the tests will encourage people to brush up on their skills and give those who have never passed an exam a nationally-recognised certificate to reward their work. An international study showed that seven million British adults - 22 per cent - lacked the basic skills needed to cope with an increasingly complex world, said Alan Wells, the agency's director. That figure compared poorly with 17 per cent in Canada, 14 per cent in Germany and 7 per cent in Sweden. He said: "Our job is to make sure that the 22 per cent is not forgotten. Every day wasted is a day wasted from somebody's life." Mr Wells said he hoped the project would become like a driving test for literacy and numeracy. He said: "At the moment if you want to demonstrate that you are literate, but you were not literate when you left school, you have to go on a course. "Lots of people don't want to do that and we have to make things easy for them. Some people may take the test at home and then brush up on their spelling or something at home before taking it at an official centre and getting a certificate. "There has to be credibility for employers and there has to be credibility for learners, otherwise the test won't be worth it." The tests are designed to help the millions of people whose reading, writing and numeracy skills are thought to be just below the level required to deal with everyday tasks. The standards for adults published yesterday cover skills ranging from recognising the titles of books and magazines to reading a job description and following instructions. They also include confidence-building tasks, from asking the way in a supermarket to complaining to the local council. Numeracy exercises start with simple tasks such as selecting the right floor in a lift and move on to reading electricity meters and taking a child's temperature. The new testing scheme was one of the proposals put forward last year by Sir Claus Moser, chairman of the Basic Skills agency, who urged a pounds 600m drive to promote and improve teaching in adult literacy and numeracy. He urged ministers to halve the number of people with poor basic skills by 2010. Baroness Blackstone, the minister for lifelong learning, is expected to announce the issue of pounds 16m in funding today as the first step towards implementing the proposals made in Sir Claus's report. Ministers have already pledged to increase the number of people in further and higher education by 750,000 before the next election. But Mr Wells warned that the Government could not wait until the fruits of its literacy and numeracy drive in schools had worked through the population. He said: "People are still living lives wasted and blighted by a record we should not be proud of in this country. The aim must be to change this within a lifetime." Essential skills: Literacy Filling in an application for a driving licence or passport Using Teletext to find a product or service Reading a child's school report Writing down directions or drawing a map for a friend Following instructions for equipment in a gym Numeracy Working out weekly pay from the hourly rate in a job advertisement Comparing mobile phone charges Working out winnings from the odds on a bet Setting the timer on a video Comparing different interest rates

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