Almost exactly one year ago, ProLiteracy expanded its membership options to include International membership. One month later, Libraries Tasmania, from Tasmania, Australia, became the first International member program.
Tasmania, an island state to the south of Australia, faces different adult literacy needs than the country’s mainland, Libraries Tasmania Senior Literacy Coordinator Andrea McMahon said. Its largely rural landscape makes it challenging to reach those in need and has led to Tasmania having the lowest literacy rates in Australia.
Much like in the United States, McMahon said they see adults who lack reading skills for a variety of reasons—they had to leave school early, are migrants and need English language services, or are dyslexic or have intellectual disabilities.
“Tasmania is very agricultural,” McMahon said. “The rural areas have the least access to support. [People may have] disrupted schooling to help on the farm.”
Because of the unique needs faced by the people of Tasmania, a state-wide strategy is in place to combat low adult literacy.
There are 23 literacy coordinators around Tasmania at state-run libraries, McMahon said. Libraries are considered the ideal place to reach people because they are already in the communities. Services are offered in the library spaces and they reach the more remote learners virtually for vocational training.
Tutors, who participate in ongoing training by coordinators, use evidence-based literacy as a social practice model to provide mostly one-on-one instruction. Learners are taught reading, writing, and numeracy in the context of their personal needs, whether that is to read to their kids, to fill out forms, or to boost their digital literacy skills—the most popular subject right now.
“One client wanted to write letters to the editor,” McMahon said.
Reading is taught through the science of reading, focusing on phonics and phonemic awareness. This has been successful, she said, as they realized the sounds were what learners were having problems with.
“It’s had amazing outcomes,” McMahon said.
When the ProLiteracy International option became available, it provided the chance for Libraries Tasmania to gain more insight about different evidence-based and science-based approaches. McMahon said that the ProLiteracy membership has opened the door to trusted and useful resources that they can apply in their programs.
“You can stay up to date easily through ProLiteracy,” she said.
As a ProLiteracy member, Libraries Tasmania enjoys all the same membership benefits as domestic members, which means they “don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” McMahon said. Benefits like Notebook, one of her favorites, provide coordinators with ideas that they can share with their tutors.
“It’s really a value,” she said.
And, because Australia is relatively small and cut off, and because Libraries Tasmania bases so much of its instruction on science and evidence, she said having resources that provide research from around the world is critical.
“There is not a lot of research happening in Australia, particularly in adult literacy,” she said.
And while the member resources and materials are nice, McMahon said the biggest benefit, especially now with borders closed due to the pandemic, is to feel part of the international adult literacy community.
"It ensures we don’t become too insular,” she said. “We become exposed to what’s going on in the rest of the world.
And that was the goal a year ago when ProLiteracy first offered the international option.
Visit ProLiteracy’s Membership page to learn more about becoming an International member.