Why Literacy

Importance of Literacy

A Definition

“Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.   Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.”

- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Why literacy is important.

 Thousands of adults in our community hide behind the dark veil of illiteracy.   Other thousands cannot speak the English language.   Activities the rest of us take for granted – filling out a job application, understanding health care instructions, grocery shopping, helping with children’s homework, reading a sign or a map – present daily struggles.

Nearly one-fifth of Buncombe County’s adult population never graduated from high school – earning 42 percent less than graduates and accounting for millions in lost federal, state, and local revenues.

In the United States, an estimated 30 million people over the age of 16 read no better than the average elementary school child. Yet the ability to read and write is the basis for all other education.

There is a direct link between literacy skills and public assistance, teen mothers, children living in poverty, and prison populations.   Literacy is our greatest weapon in the ongoing struggle between success and failure – between economic vitality and prosperity for all our residents.

Without literacy, today’s adults struggle to take part in the world around them and reach their full potential as individuals, parents, employees, and citizens.

(The following excerpt is from the ProLiteracy website, October 2009.)

Adults need strong literacy skills…

…to raise children who have strong literacy skills.
Learning to read begins long before a child enters school. It begins when parents read to their children, buy their children books, and encourage their children to read. The research is clear: parents who are poor readers don’t read as often to their children as do parents who are strong readers.   These children enter school less prepared to learn to read than other children.

…to be good employees.
The employees most in demand in the U.S. have at least a two-year college degree. Workers must be able to read safety regulations and warnings so they and their co-workers can stay safe on the job. And working in a team means that employees must be able to communicate clearly with one another.

…to keep themselves and their families healthy.
Understanding a doctor’s orders, calculating how much medicine to take, reading disease-prevention pamphlets—all are ways adults can keep themselves and their families healthy. But millions of adults lack these essential “health literacy” skills, which adds an estimated $230 billion a year to the cost of health care in the U.S.

…to avoid crime.
There is a clear correlation between adult illiteracy and crime. More than 45 percent of all inmates in local jails, 40 percent in state facilities, and 27 percent in federal corrections institutions did not graduate from high school.

…to be active in their communities.
Political campaigns in the U.S. often stress the need for “informed voters.” But how can an individual be well informed if he or she cannot access written campaign literature or read newspaper coverage of the issues and candidates? The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, showed that low literate adults are less likely to vote than strong readers, but become more active in their communities as their reading and writing skills improve.

…to advocate for themselves and avoid human rights abuse.
People must be aware of their rights in order to assert them. Literacy gives people access to that information. Literacy plays a significant role in reducing gender, race, nationality, and religious inequality that favors one group over another in access to education, property, employment, health care, legal, and civic participation.

What if…

…you can’t read the label on your child’s medicine bottle.

…you can’t count your change in the checkout line.

…you can’t fill out an application for a job.

… or the paperwork for a loan …or food …or housing.

…the boss hands you a new instruction manual.

…you need to get directions or read a map.

…the teacher sends home an important note about your child.