Yes, adult literacy should be improved. But governments can make their messages easier to read right now


Shutterstock

Cath Ferguson, Edith Cowan University

A parliamentary inquiry is looking into how to improve adult literacy in Australia.

Having a low level of literacy is not the same thing as being illiterate. The definition of “illiterate” is the inability to read or write. A low level of literacy is more complex and relates to people’s abilities to read, write and understand a range of information that allows them to fully participation in society.

According to the OECD, 40–50% of adults in Australia have literacy levels below the international standard required for participation in work, education and society.

Together with literacy, the inquiry will also look at numeracy and problem-solving.

While it’s important the inquiry look at ways to improve literacy for those struggling with it, the government could start acting now to make its information and services more accessible. One way is to present information in plain English, and make services like Centrelink easier to navigate.

Why are we having this inquiry?

The inquiry will consider both economic and social aspects of literacy. But its focus is on increased labour market participation, and increased productivity.

It was initiated after a 2020 Productivity Commission report showed Australia’s falling rates of educational achievement, compared to other countries in the OECD, were related to our levels of productivity — particularly as compared to the United States.




Read more:
Josh Frydenberg has the opportunity to transform Australia, permanently lowering unemployment


The OECD numbers show our literacy rates are similar to New Zealand and actually better than in the United Kingdom and US.

In a survey of adult skills conducted by the OECD in Australia from October 2011 to March 2012, Australian adults scored fifth out of participating countries for literacy — after Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden. The United Kingdom and the US scored at 15th and 17th respectively.

Person reading book with a cup of tea.
A low level of literacy isn’t the same as not being able to read. It is about accessing information in a way that allows a person to participate in society and the economy.
Shutterstock

But for numeracy Australia ranked 14th, the UK 17th and the USA 21st.

Adults with low literacy come from different cultural or language backgrounds. Those born in Australia could have low literacy due to various circumstances including:

  • learning difficulties
  • alternative preferences for learning
  • social circumstances that prevent school attendance or lead to many school changes
  • health issues during childhood
  • childhood trauma (including family/domestic violence)
  • a lack of interest or motivation to learn.

What are we doing to improve the issue?

A number of programs are available to train adults in certain skills to increase labour market participation. One example is the government’s Job Trainer Fund that provides free or low-cost courses as part of its economic response to COVID.

There are government programs too that focus on literacy and numeracy skills. They include

While these program are good to have, there is stigma attached to low literacy and this can inhibit help-seeking at all ages.




Read more:
To lift literacy levels among Indigenous children, their parents’ literacy skills must be improved first


Schools are increasingly recognised as the best place to improve the educational outcomes for adults. Early childhood education is especially important as the earlier in life issues are identified, the better the outcomes.

Kindergarten kids listening intently to the teacher as she reads from book.
A good early learning system can help ensure most people learn the literacy skills they need at a young age.
Shutterstock

Still, people with learning difficulties are often experts at hiding their challenges and some people will slip through the school system without their issues being addressed.

Services can be more accessible

The inquiry has received around 100 submissions from a range of organisations and individuals.

A submission from Read Write Now (where I am a tutor) — a West Australian organisation that provides free one on one support for adults in areas such as filling out forms, or reading aloud to their children — notes new arrivals are more likely to seek literacy help than those born in Australia. This is not always a case of demand, but one of stigma around illiteracy.

Their submission also notes there is little consistency of such services across Australia.

Many of our clients, especially people from Indigenous backgrounds, live a transient lifestyle. We find that often when they move there is no literacy program to link them into at their new location, so they fall out of the system.

A few submissions highlighted the difficulty many adults have filling out forms and navigating government services such as Centrelink. A submission from the NSW Council of Social Service noted the “increased digitisation of government services is a compounding factor”. It points to the need for government agencies to adhere to requirements for plain English and easy access material.

In this, the government can start making changes now.

Our recent analysis of government information on COVID-19 found many documents were written in a way that is inaccessible to struggling readers.




Read more:
Most government information on COVID-19 is too hard for the average Australian to understand


The problem lies in not only helping to improve adults’ literacy but in making services more accessible, as well as reducing unnecessary hurdles. For instance, in one submission, a woman talks of her husband who is a recent migrant with dyslexia. Although he can speak English well, he struggles with complex writing tasks that prevent him from being able to get the kind of jobs he has the skills to do.

She writes:

he could fulfil a handyman role offered recently by our local council — but only if the job were offered to him. He would not be able to provide a written CV and selection criteria responses during an online application process without significant assistance from me.

Organisations need to be aware of such issues, to not prevent skilled people from doing a job due to the application process alone. We also need to encourage those who need support to access the available services.

The House Employment, Education and Training Committee is continuing to hold public hearings for the inquiry into adult literacy.The Conversation

Cath Ferguson, Senior research fellow, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should governments provide funding grants to encourage public interest journalism?



File 20170619 17384 o2335t
Publicly funded grants could help journalists break and cover important stories.
Shutterstock

Andrew Dodd, Swinburne University of Technology

Whether government should fund public interest journalism in Australia is a question a Senate select committee is currently being asked to consider. It’s a question that’s both simple and hard, as it raises all sorts of issues about the relationship between government, the media and consumers.

There’s an important reason for asking. There is now clear evidence that the market is failing us. There are gaps in coverage and no sign that they are going to be filled anytime soon.

Courts, local councils, state institutions, and even state parliaments are now missing out on proper coverage. The arts are under-covered. The regions are not properly represented, either to themselves or to the rest of Australia. Entire communities are missing out on local news services.

A cynic might say that some of these were never covered all that well by the news media. However, it’s certainly true that things have become much worse. This is mostly a result of digital disruption and the breaking of the model in which advertising paid for editorial content.

The ads have moved online, to Google and Facebook – which do not have an imperative to serve local communities, at least not with news and certainly not with public interest journalism.

There are several ideas about how to tackle this. These include creating a form of charitable status for news organisations, as well as tax incentives to encourage greater philanthropy. Together these could help sustain existing media players or encourage start-ups. They might help create a culture in which people donate to fund journalistic investigations.

Another way might be to provide publicly funded grants for journalism.

The Public Interest Journalism Foundation, of which I’m a board member, has made a submission to the Senate inquiry calling for an Independent Production Fund for public interest journalism. Its principal function would be to help make important journalism happen.

Along the way, it might encourage experimentation and new forms of storytelling, while fostering coverage of neglected topics or regions.

Imagine if a freelance reporter – or even one working for a larger media company – could apply to the fund for financial support to develop an important story. Imagine if the fund was focused on supporting the type of journalism that was in the public’s interest.

Immediately this might conjure an image of undue government control, or of Big Brother intervening in the editorial process. Or you might ask: what government would hand out funds to a journalist working on a story about, say, government corruption?

The answer is it’s happening already. The government already funds journalism at SBS and the ABC. It does this through triennial funding and in a way that ensures the national broadcasters retain editorial control. A raft of conventions and a healthy editorial culture ensure both organisations are free to report critically on the federal government and any other institution.

And the government already does it through bodies like Screen Australia, which funds films and documentaries. It doesn’t set editorial parameters on those funds by insisting that certain things get taken out or left in.

But all of these examples are for screen-based journalism, not text – or what used to be called print – reporting.

Print media companies have not generally received grants to support journalism, although there are exceptions such as The Australian newspaper, which once accepted subsidies to fund its Australian Literary Review. Other literary/journalism publications, such as Meanjin, have also been supported over the years through government grants.

So, the concept has already been tried. Now might be the time to expand it to cover several forms of journalism, across all mediums and specifically for public interest reporting.

Perhaps this could be funded by revenue derived from taxing media conglomerates like Google and Facebook? After all, they’re the companies that have contributed to the problem by taking away advertising revenue without any concomitant requirement to provide news for consumers. Nor are they currently compelled to pay much taxation in the jurisdictions in which they operate.

I’d like to see a production fund with a clear vision and a sense of adventure about what it can achieve. It doesn’t need to be weighed down by corporate structures or old costly modes of production.

This could fund projects from across public, commercial and community media, and it could play an important role in nurturing young investigative reporters, audio storytellers and videographers – many of whom are now missing out on the opportunities and mentoring that were traditionally provided by established media companies.

Imagine if an Independent Production Fund encouraged reportage on important issues that are not well-served by the established media, and if the national broadcasters and commercial media companies opened their doors to publishing the content created.

As a journalism educator, I know how much a keen graduate can do with a cheap video camera, some off-the-shelf editing gear, and a small grant to kick-start a great idea. As a member of the New Beats project tracking the progress of Australia’s many redundant journalists, I know how much older reporters still have to contribute and how financial support can make great things happen.

The ConversationSo yes, there is a role for governments to play, and providing small grants to encourage public interest journalism has definitely got merit.

Andrew Dodd, Program Director – Journalism, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government can support public interest journalism in Australia – here’s how



File 20170616 537 kdqnlv
The government should restore funding to public broadcasters SBS and ABC enabling them to produce more public interest journalism.
http://www.mediaday.com.au

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

Independent journalism’s importance to healthy democracies is undisputed. In a time of rising autocratic tendencies around the world, this independent check on power is more needed than ever. This is well illustrated by US President Donald Trump’s disrespect for the balance-of-power doctrine in general and for the US judiciary in particular.

So, it’s not a coincidence that the Australian Senate has set up an inquiry into the future of public interest journalism. This was prompted by the latest round of redundancies at Fairfax. To this should be added Network Ten’s precarious financial situation.

But what is “public interest journalism”? From a journalistic point of view, this covers topics that are vital for citizens to make informed decisions and choices. There is a clear distinction between what the public is interested in, which includes gossip, celebrities and lifestyle topics, compared to what is important to the health of our democracy.

The Ethical Journalism Network puts it thus:

The public interest is about what matters to everyone in society. It is about the common good, the general welfare and the security and wellbeing of everyone in the community.

As I have argued before, without this kind of journalism a lot of corruption, maladministration and abuse of power would not be known to the public. We would then risk sliding further down the slippery slope towards autocracy.

So, what can and should governments do? Many submissions to the Senate inquiry will argue that it’s time for governments to step up support for public interest journalism.

Fortunately, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are plenty of models around the globe where governments are supporting public interest journalism at arm’s length.

It’s important to point out that a significant amount of research clearly shows that in mature liberal democracies government funding for such journalism does not equal government influence over reporting.

The first and most obvious thing to do is finance Australia’s public broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, to a level that enables them to consistently produce public interest journalism. The minimum is to restore, and index up, the funding to the 2013 level before the current severe cuts instigated by the Abbott government.

Public broadcasting is a tried and tested source of public interest journalism. It will be a repository for such content until market-financed journalism has transitioned to new business models. Australia has a national and global responsibility to fund the ABC and SBS, as there are only about ten properly funded public broadcasters globally.

The rest of the sustainable funding models will, most likely, be a combination of government, market and private altruistic funding. There are a number of international models:

  • The most obvious indirect funding model is to exempt public interest journalism companies from GST and payroll taxes.

  • A second option is to make donations to such journalistic organisations tax-deductible to encourage private altruism.

  • Another option is to introduce a version of the “low-profit limited liability corporations” (L3Cs) that exist in some states in the US and the UK (community interest company). L3Cs are businesses that produce a social good. Investments in such companies receive various tax breaks.

  • A fourth option is to introduce a government-funded base operational fund open to public interest journalism ventures. This could include a special grant for start-up companies.

All of the above already exist in a number of countries with a long tradition of funding public interest journalism. Here it’s important to point out that Australia, for more than 100 years, supported such journalism via printing and distribution subsidies.

Another option drawing on international experience is an Australia Council-like fund that could contribute to journalism residencies at universities. This would create a win-win situation in which experienced journalists would work with students to create public interest journalism.

Finally, and most importantly, a sustainable funding model must involve Google and Facebook in some way. As Ben Eltham has eloquently argued in The Conversation, Google and Facebook have hoovered up the advertising money that used to fund public interest journalism. They have effectively created a global media oligopoly partly based on journalism they are not paying for.

A levy on Google and Facebook advertising revenue would be a very important funding source for public interest journalism. The bonus is that this would encourage the social media giants to acknowledge that they are publishers rather than just platforms.

Engaging with the two global media companies illustrates the core challenge for domestic policymakers: media policy that used to be predominantly national is increasingly global. Domestic policy may prove to be a blunt policy tool in meeting the challenge of supporting public interest journalism.

The conclusion from this international survey is that, historically, market forces on their own never have been able to carry public interest journalism. Now more than ever governments need to help carry it across the morass that is the current transformation of the industry.

The ConversationThe Senate inquiry reports in early December 2017. It would be a tragedy for democratic accountability in Australia if government inaction is the outcome.

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple slams government’s proposed punishment in ebook pricing case


Gigaom

As expected, Apple(s AAPL) has expressed its strong disagreement with the federal government’s proposed remedies in the ebook pricing case, which the government outlined in a court filing released Friday morning.

In July, a federal judge found Apple guilty of conspiring with publishers to fix ebook prices.

Apple’s full court filing is embedded below and is available here as a PDF. Apple calls the proposed injunction “a draconian and punitive intrusion into Apple’s business, wildly out of proportion to any adjudicated wrongdoing or potential harm,” and claimed it is “a sweeping and unprecedented injunction as a tool to empower the Government to regulate Apple’s businesses and potentially affect Apple’s business relationships with thousands of partners across several markets.”

The government’s injunction seemingly forces Apple to abandon its in-app purchasing restrictions, at least for digital bookstores, by “allowing Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook app providers to offer a simple…

View original post 299 more words

Article: Ebook Library for Schools


The link below is to an article reporting on an Australian government project to set up an ebook library for schools.

For more visit:
http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/breaking-australian-government-mandates-new-ebook-initiative/

Book Review: Collapse, by Richard Stephenson


Collapse‘Collapse’ by Richard Stephenson is book one in the ‘New America’ series and I believe Stephenson’s first novel. The novel is set in the year 2027, with the USA falling apart. It is in the grip of the 2nd Great Depression and is at war with the Great Empire of Iran. The state of Florida has been devastated by a hurricane that has left over 1 million people dead and Texas is about to face the same fate. The government is about to fall. The people are descending into anarchy. What will become of the USA?

Though a first novel, the suspense and action of the novel is first rate. It is very easy to read and carries you along quite easily. However, there are serious issues with the grammar and spelling, as well as some fairly obvious errors in the actual text of the story. A good proof reader should have picked up on these mistakes and that would have resulted in a far more polished and professional  product.

There is also a short sex scene tacked onto the end of the story which I thought was somewhat tacky and unnecessary. It did nothing for the story as a whole and was completely out of place in the overall development of the novel.

If you can see past these obvious flaws without too much prejudice, the novel is a very good read and I do look forward to picking up the story when the next book in the series is released in 2013.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Richard-Stephenson/dp/1477654631/

Article: More on the US Ebook Lawsuit Involving Apple


The link below is to an article with more news on the latest developments.

For more visit:
http://www.macworld.com/article/1167808/apple_booksellers_oppose_proposed_ebook_price_fixing_settlement.html

Article: Latest News on US Ebooks Law Suit


At the BookShelf has been following developments in the USA in the government versus Apple (and others) lawsuit. The link below reports on the latest developments in the case.

For more visit:
http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/23/doj-sticks-to-its-guns-in-price-fixing-suit-against-apple-wont-modify-ebook-settlement/