The story of the Hotline begins in 1990. This was International Literacy Year, and TAFE’s Adult Literacy Information Office (ALIO) was funded to trial a free literacy hotline. Soon after, the ABC started screening their adult literacy TV series, The Reading Writing Roadshow.
The present Hotline was first set up by the Federal Government as a phone support line for people learning literacy through the TV program, and took its first calls in April 1994. Viewers could call the Hotline to get help with their workbooks.
Soon after, the Life Be In It campaign started to feature TV and radio ads for the Hotline, and the now-familiar 1 300 6555 06 jingle was developed. Calls skyrocketed as the extent of the demand for adult literacy provision in Australia became clear. The Hotline’s focus shifted from supporting the TV series, to providing information and referrals to literacy classes and tutors in Community Colleges, neighbourhood houses, TAFE and other sectors.
The Hotline was an important resource because phones were answered by experienced adult literacy teachers who understood the difficulties of callers and the barriers they faced. Often this was the first time that they had admitted to anybody that they had problems with reading and writing, and teachers had to deal sensitively with fears and embarrassment.
The Hotline continued to be funded by the ommonwealth Department of Education, and managed by TAFE NSW. It was initially based at the Adult Literacy Information Office (ALIO) in Redfern, and after moving around several TAFE locations is currently based at Ultimo, with a team of eight experienced teachers on the phones.
We receive more than 4000 calls a year from around Australia. Some people call for themselves, while others ring on behalf of a friend or family member, or from community organisations.
Australia is more complex and diverse than it was back in 1990, and the work of the Hotline has changed too. Nowadays we also provide advice and information to libraries, job agencies, employers and industry on adult literacy and numeracy issues, and increasingly on digital literacy. Our website has lots of information and resources for students, tutors and employers, as well as a dedicated section for Indigenous learners. Our social media keeps our campaigns and resources in the public eye.
Today, the Hotline’s jingle is an Aussie icon, and we still get calls from people who say they have had the Hotline’s number in their head for ten years, waiting for the courage to call up and get help. It’s clear that there is still lots of work ahead for the Reading Writing Hotline.