Global illiteracy has been declining over time as third world countries’ education improves; however, some first world countries are falling behind. Helping adults gain literacy skills will reduce poverty and improve public health.
Literacy in adults (the ability to read, write, and decode meaning from words) is determined on a scale from one to five:
Read a short text to locate a single piece of information; have a basic vocabulary; to decode the meaning of simple sentences
Make matches between text and data. Adults can paraphrase or make low-level inferences
Required to read and navigate dense, lengthy, or complicated texts
Integrate, interpret or synthesize information from complex or lengthy documents
Search for and integrate data across multiple, dense texts: construct syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view; or evaluate evidence-based arguments. Adults can understand subtle, rhetorical cues and can make high-level inferences or use specialized background knowledge
The minimal level of literacy for the workplace and functioning in society is level 3.
Adult literacy worldwide
There are 781 million illiterate adults in the world; over 75% of illiterate adults are from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is 86.3%.
Women represent almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally. The global literacy rate for all males is 90.0%, and the rate for all females is 82.7%.
In 1820, only 12% of people in the world could read and write. In 2016 86% of the world population can read and write.
Illiteracy has been declining over time as a result of better education in third world countries.
PIAAC – Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies
PIAAC is a program run by the OECD for the assessment and analysis of adult skills. The PIAAC survey measures proficiency in vital information-processing skills, literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving. The international survey covers over 40 countries and measures key cognitive skills needed in the workplace and to participate in society. (http://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/)
Literacy in New Zealand
New Zealand scored above the OECD average in literacy, problem-solving and numeracy. 57% of those surveyed scored level 3 or higher; only Japan, Finland, and the Netherlands ranked higher than in New Zealand.
These statistics do not reflect the competency of New Zealand’s educational system. In the most recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), released late last year, New Zealand’s Year 5 students ranked 33rd among the 50 participating countries. And we were last out of English-speaking countries. A T.E.C. report in 2014 reported that among a sample of Year 11 students with NCEA Level 1, only 49 percent achieved the international reading benchmark. In other words, more than half of the students were functionally illiterate. This statistic reflects the high number of Maori and Pacific Island students who are functionally illiterate. Adult literacy is also a challenge among the migrant population.
65% of inmates in New Zealand’s prisons are functionally illiterate. 63% of inmates are Pacific Island and Maori ethnicity.
Why do functionally illiterate people often end up in prison?
Functionally illiterate adults find it hard to find employment and often end up in low-paying jobs. With few legal options available for earning adequate income and succeeding in society, illiteracy is a primary reason people turn to crime and end up in prison. The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is directly related to reading failure.
How do young people get through the Educational system without being able to read and write adequately?
The process of dropping out begins long before high school. It stems from a loss of interest in school, often because of being held back. Remedial programs are used to address gaps in necessary skills. Remedial programs do not always work, as students are still making it to high school without adequate literacy. Dyslexia and unaddressed problems with eyesight are also reasons for illiteracy.
Programs to help adults improve literacy
- English Language Partners – specializing in refugee and immigrant English education.
- Private tuition – one on one tutoring
- Online tuition – self-paced web app or Appstore tuition
- English tuition for inmates – one-on-one tuition