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Adult Literacy

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A peek into adult literacy rates and significance in the UK.  

By Amreen Pathan

What is adult literacy?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines adult literacy as the ‘ability to read and write with understanding a short simple statement on their everyday life.’

In its survey of adult skills, the OECD reported that a major 16% of adults are considered to be ‘functionally illiterate.’

The clue is in the word – ‘functionally’. It is the kind of literacy without which basic functions are difficult. Quite simply, a person is unable to read, write and apply basic arithmetic in everyday situations.

If you’ve read my previous article on pupil literacy, then you’ll know why literacy is so important for children and teenagers.

Let’s translate poor adult literacy to real life. This is what the National Literacy Trust describes:

  1. Unable to spot fake news or bias in the media.
  2. Unable to read bus or train timetables or understand their pay slips.
  3. Unable to understand household bills or labels on pre-packaged groceries.
  4. Unable to describe a child’s symptoms to a doctor or read a medicine bottle label.
  5. Unable to write short messages to family or read a road sign. 

The lowest level here of course is number five, which pertains to the simplest functions adults might expect to perform daily. This level is comparable to a literacy competency of a 5-7 year old  

Going back to my very first point of data, 16.4% or 7.1 million people in England have literacy levels at or below one might expect of 5-7 year olds.

Why is adult literacy important?

Poor literacy is a barrier between a person and their development as an individual and as part of a community.

By reversing poor literacy skills, there mere act of completing a job application becomes possible. This in turn leads to employment, which aside from economic gain fosters a sense of pride and identity, enables exploration of extra-curricular, provides security, develops skills and redefines one’s purpose.

What else?

A higher level of literacy means a person is able to make more informed choices pertaining to health and nutrition. This in itself can have a resounding impact on a community because better health outcomes are created thereby lowering healthcare costs for the nation.

Compared to other religious groups, Muslims in the UK have the highest age‐standardised rate of reported ill health (13% for males, 16% for females). I found this statistic downright depressing bearing in mind the importance of health, moderation, and acquiring knowledge about all of these things in Islam. It would be naïve and downright foolish to argue that all ill health is linked to low literacy but studies do suggest a pattern of low literacy and poorer health outcomes, ‘including knowledge, intermediate disease markers, measures of morbidity, general health status and use of health resources.

Most important in my opinion though is the impact adult literacy has on child literacy. If an adult is not proficient to a certain standard, then how can their child begin learning at home? Thus begins the literacy chasm between one child and another based on generational cycles of literacy levels. And as child number one and two enter the world of school, the gap becomes bigger.

If nothing else matters, then getting involved in a child’s learning should be the biggest motivator for improving literacy.

How can adult literacy be improved?

I would like to point out that this issue is more nuanced and complex for our migrant elders (and not always relevant either). So the suggestions below and reasons above should not be perceived as one-for-all.

  1. Just the simple act of reading a variety of sources such as short articles in newspapers.
  2. Word games and puzzles easily found on free apps and even in newspapers and cheap puzzle books.
  3. Seek out local adult education classes. You should be able to find some options on the Gov.co.uk website under the name of your local area, town or city.
  4. Adults can also get literacy support in their role as parents, through family learning activities provided by colleges, libraries, schools and other organisations.
  5. Local libraries on their own can be a great starting point as they can vouch for appropriate reading material and possibly even reading groups.
  6. Listen to literature online: this could be a podcast on a subject you enjoy or an audiobook – (even listen to children’s stories if you like!)
  7. If you have the privilege of doing so, engage a tutor for your services. They can offer their expertise to develop your skills in a short amount of time.
  8. If you yourself are literacy proficient and know of individuals who aren’t, then perhaps you can help by offering your services in your local community. I recommend giving this article a read if you’re ready to spring into action.

I am passionate about education and everyone’s right to access the basics and beyond. So much of this starts with literacy.

What do you think about improving adult literacy and how relevant is the issue to your community? Please share your thoughts below – I’d love to have a read.

#literacy #reading #education

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