The issue of illiteracy is a serious one, especially for adults. Worldwide, 880 million adults have been labeled as illiterate, and in the United States it is estimated that almost 90 million adults are functionally illiterate—that is to say that they do not have the minimal skills needed to function in society. Children of school age have ready access to programs and remediation to help them acquire literacy skills, and with the advent of federal policies such as No Child Left Behind, more students are being caught before they fall through the cracks and become illiterate for life. Adults, however, do not have this type of access to remediation programs meant to target illiteracy, and in most countries (especially underdeveloped countries), there are no such programs even in the planning stages. These illiterate adults are often forced to hide their inabilities and are cheated out of better jobs, proper health care and benefits, and helping their own children with schooling. Because of these issues and the stigma that illiteracy carries, most adults do not ever admit that they have poor to nonexistent literacy skills. This stigma forms a cycle of poor literacy skills, which becomes hard if not impossible to break. Only through effective literacy programs, which use strategies that work for adult learners, can this problem be solved.
A Definition Of Adult Illiteracy
Providing a definition of adult illiteracy is difficult. There are many definitions that are suitable, but for the purposes of this paper we will use the definition provided in 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics as to what literacy is. It states that literacy is, “Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” So, it goes to reason that illiteracy would be an inability to use “printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” This definition was chosen as a focus due to the fact that it goes beyond the skills of literacy including comprehending and decoding. It also includes the wide range of information-processing skills that adults use daily whether in work, school, community, or personal lives (Burggraf, 2002). It is inclusive in all areas in regard to daily life and the skills needed to function in society. Literacy cannot only be thought of as an ability to read and write. It must be viewed, especially in relation to adults, as an ability to read print, write print, and use what is read or written to function as a contributing member of society. Without this, an adult is viewed as an illiterate person. The issue of illiteracy must also be viewed separately from the issue of alliteracy. Alliteracy is when a person is perfectly capable of reading but chooses not to. He or she will only read when necessary or when it is required for work or a needed activity. Alliterates have become more pervasive in society and are often thought of when discussing illiteracy. However, alliterates have a major advantage: They can read and write, and use the information gleaned to apply to society and their personal lives. Illiteracy is the inability to use the literacy skills necessary to function.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Literacy: “Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).
Illiteracy: The inability to read any text such as signs, books, or magazines.
High-Interest Texts: Those types of text that easily hold interest for the reader.
Literacy Skills: Those skills needed to read, write, and make sense of text in various forms.
Ability Grouping: The practice of forming learning groups of students of similar abilities, for example, putting students who read on a third-grade level with other students who read on a third-grade level.
Functional Illiteracy: A person can read such things as menus or environmental print (signs, wrappers of food, labels, etc.) but cannot read a sentence or make meaning out of text.
Constructivist Methodology: A teaching method based on the works of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky by which the instructor helps the student construct meaning rather than simply lecturing. This method is learner centered and learner driven.
Alliterate: A person who has the ability to read, yet chooses not to use it.