I’ve been watching this TV series on free-to-air. The show deals with a group of adults who struggle with mundane daily tasks. Apparently, these people have rudimentary literacy skills, an issue that affects more Aussies than we think. Overall, though, Australia’s literacy still rates quite highly as compared to other Western nations. In an intensive nine-week stretch, the series tries to pick up where the classroom left off. They attempt to level-up the participants’ English after a crash course on reading and writing. The programme mentions the five literacy levels in the country: from level one to five. Throughout the show, the merits of good communication skills in everyday life are impressed to the viewer.
The five levels
As mentioned, level one comprises the lowest rung on the ladder. As the label suggests, this represents the most basic of degrees. Ten percent of all Aussies belonged to this category. With this level, respondents can comprehend short printed or digital texts. They could also locate a specific piece of data that is identical to the information previously provided. Variations of these processes, such as asking for more information, would exceed the responder’s powers. This is by no means an isolated problem. The next level includes thirty percent or five million people. Thus, the number of wombats who have insufficient literacy skills balloon to forty percent. In this specific realm, Aussies can make more connections between two texts. They could also do some low-level paraphrasing.
Meanwhile, 38 percent or 6.3 million souls are at level three. This is the entry point for compliance in most knowledge societies. Members of this group can comprehend denser and lengthier material from mixed sources. They have a better and keener understanding of complex, mixed digital information. In level four, multi-step operations are routine. Creation, execution, and finishing of complex tasks are handled with aptitude. They typically draw on their stock knowledge, safeguarding this with their lives. Level-fivers are the kings of the jungle. They can spot inconsistencies from a mile away. In some instances, they can craft long papers on those inaccuracies. They have no trouble navigating and synthesising long, complex texts. Only 1.2 percent or 200,000 individuals belong to this denomination.
The show unpeels the stories of the struggling participants. For instance, Lamine is at level one. He needs support to do the most basic tasks. When they were given a shopping list, he ended up with ciphers. Upon inspecting his purchases, the teacher told him that ‘This is actually quite good.’ He walks three hours each day, as the buses are beyond his powers. Like Shelle, he has trouble reading signs. The boards for the trains might as well be in hieroglyphics. The latter stutters but manages to catch the train – unlike Lamine. However, catching public transport is not the same as understanding it. The stops, though procedural, are foreign to her. Thus, she often gets confused when taking it and is at the mercy of good Samaritans.
Meanwhile, Mike is another case. The teacher gave them a shopping list that included unsalted butter and prosciutto. Unable to keep up, Mike threw away his sheet. He had to re-listen to the list before shopping a storm. Apparently, Mike had a genetic condition that severely affected his cognitive skills. Most of these entrants left school early as they had a hard time. The instructors noted that school is progressive. You miss significant time and you’ll be left behind. Lamine came from a non-English speaking background. He had his work cut out for him. Taking up English as a second language is another factor. Indeed, the majority of those with poor literacy skills are either the latter or those who did not finish school.
Various faces of dyslexia
The term bandied around in the show is dyslexia. The bunch have trouble comprehending words. In one such instance, Mike was copying board work. He was doing so a few letters at a time. This is more a childhood dilemma, a hurdle that learners have long since passed. Aside from reading, they also falter with sounds. The connection between pronouncing and spelling is a toughie for them. This is hardly peculiar to them but in their case, is more pronounced. In the latest ep, the teachers gave them poetry drills to give them a keener ear. Aside from the cooking list, they did this Amazing Race event where they blitzed through Sydney. They were allotted 2.5 hours to find their way to Darling Harbour, where lunch awaited them.
At the start, they each created their goals. Shelle mentioned how her dad would read her Lord of the Rings every weekend when she was in school. She showed her bookshelf, which had some fantasy novels. Her goal was to someday write a book. Another participant shared that her kids often knew more than her. She had trouble tutoring them, finding their homework too steep. She hoped to one day read them a book. Mike’s goal was to read aloud the supper dine in menu to his fiancée. He was able to achieve this on the second ep. These moments reveal the consequence of a little mettle. The term ‘Aussie battler’ has evolved through time. Often correlated with the working class, the battler was someone who overcame the odds. Hence, these individuals have mostly succeeded in spite of their deficiencies. They have started families and are doing their bit. Literacy remains their biggest challenge and, as stated, is one that they will not overlook.
‘For better or for worse’
Before making judgments, I must point out that these literacy levels are not uniform. There are some industries with very high rates. These include ‘professional, scientific, and technical services.’ The same applies to the media and public sector. The older populace also possesses lower literacy skills than their younger counterparts. Literacy rates peak among those between 20 and 30 and taper down from 40 onwards. The 14.1 percent mentioned is not unusual among the progressive countries surveyed. Even though we come from different backgrounds, we couldn’t help comparing us to the characters in the series. I will end by paraphrasing Max Ehrmann, best known for his poem ‘Desiderata.’ Wherever you are, whatever your situation in life, there will always be people better and worse off than yourself.