“I’d just pretend. I couldn’t do it. I’d take sick leave, whatever. I’d make up any excuse at all.”
Alisha knew she could not functionally read or write.
She was one of a large number of Tasmanians who lack the literacy skills they need.
Tasmania’s illiteracy rate is the highest in the country, with one in two adults functionally illiterate, by measure of the Australian Core Skills Framework.
Adult literacy group 26TEN runs individually-tailored programs out of libraries statewide and is government funded.
The organisation has measured its progress one year into its 10-year strategy and found it is exceeding its ambitious targets.
For Alisha, taking the leap to try 26TEN was a difficult one.
“I missed a couple of appointments because I didn’t know what to expect. What were they going to tell me to spell? Were they going to make fun of me?”
The program enabled her to get her drivers license and fill out a passport application, things she never thought she’d be able to do.
Tasmanian Council of Social Services CEO Kym Goodes said 26TEN has helped people navigate everyday, but complex paperwork.
“The number of forms and compliance issues for Centrelink and other providers is really intense, so for those with lower levels of literacy, that can be the make or break between whether you’ve got money to feed your children,” she said.
“These are life-changing moments for people.”
For Alisha, who continues to see her literacy tutor Fiona once a week, it’s all about her children.
“I just started reading to my one year-old daughter, and every time we go into a book store, she says ‘book’.”
“And that’s all because of Fiona and 26TEN. I never would have been able to read to my kids without them.”
This is one of a series of five pieces written for assessment for HEJ255: News Contemporary Practice and Analysis. It was based on a real-life press conference held at the university. It has also been shortlisted for a $500 cash prize.