Illiteracy is a society-wide problem. It is a deep-rooted problem that, despite huge investments from government, remains a long way from being solved.
“Literacy is defined as the ability to understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written texts to participate in society, achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential (OECD, 2013, p. 59).”
“A person is literate who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on his everyday life.
A person is illiterate who cannot with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on his everyday life.
A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing, and calculation for his own and the community’s development.
A person is functionally illiterate who cannot engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing, and calculation for his own and the community’s development (UNESCO, 1978, p.183).”
The goal? Improving global literacy. Let's Read Worldwide!
We cannot attempt to solve a problem that is not acknowledged and understood. We will create pages outlining the issues relating to functional illiteracy, in different countries, with a focus on functional illiteracy. Functional illiterates are unable to use their acquired literacy skills in daily life (UNESCO, 1978), e.g., to read and understand a medicine label or a bank statement, fill out a job application, compare the cost of two items and choose the item that offers the best value (Cree et al., 2012).
Solving the problem of illiteracy and functional illiteracy is relevant to governments and various organizations and their efficiency shows up in statistics (UNESCO, 2015). But the development of programs based on scientific research (e.g., Alpha Plus: Rüsseler et al., 2012) could improve the efficacy of the programs and the persistence of the students. The Science of Reading is a body of work that can be better used to inform practice and to develop Science of Reading Programs (SoR Programs).
Is anyone getting it right? Government spending on education is one of the main factors involved in the nearly 100% literacy rates of countries like Finland. A literacy rate that hovers around 100% is seen in quite a few other countries of the world, including Azerbaijan and Cuba. Andorra is one such country with virtually 100% of its populace being literate. A part of Southwestern Europe, its government directs by law that every child between the ages of 6 and 16 is required to submit to compulsory attendance within its school systems. However, the issues relating to literacy are huge; including the language itself. For example, Finnish is arguably one of the easiest languages to learn to read (something I was writing about in the 1970s) because of the 'transparent' orthography. It is easy for children to learn to decode when the correspondences between speech sounds and graphemes are limited. The issue of accents is also reduced because there are fewer differences (and again fewer discrepancies between written and spoken language ie the grapheme to phoneme correspondences) Most Finnish parents also have college degrees or advanced degrees and value education; reading to their children at night, having books in the home, visiting the library etc. More than a third of children start school already reading! These differences must be discussed when figuring out the best way to approach functional illiteracy, in different countries.
Do you have some information to share about global literacy? We would love to hear from you.
Cree, A., Kay, A., and Steward, J. (2012). The Economic & Social Cost of Illiteracy: a Snapshot of Illiteracy in a Global Context. Melbourne: The World Literacy Foundation.
OECD (2013). OECD Skills Outlook 2013. First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. Paris: OECD
Rüsseler, J., Menkhaus, K., Aulbert-Siepelmeyer, A., Gerth, I., and Boltzmann, M. (2012). “Alpha Plus”: an innovative training program for reading and writing education of functionally illiterate adults. Creat. Educ. 3, 357–361. doi: 10.4236/ce.2012.33056
UNESCO (1978). Records of the General Conference. 20th Session, Vol. 1. Paris: UNESCO.
UNESCO (2006). “Why Literacy Matters,” in Education for All. Literacy for Life, ed. UNESCO (Paris: UNESCO Publishing), 135–145.
UNESCO (2009). The Next Generation of Literacy Statistics: Implementing the LITERACY ASSESSMENT and Monitoring Programme (LAMP). Paris: UNESCO Institute for Statistics Montreal.
UNESCO (2013). Schooling for Millions of Children Jeopardized by Reductions in Aid. Education for All Global Monitoring Report. Paris: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
UNESCO (2015). Adult and Youth Literacy. UIS Fact Sheet. Paris: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.