Illiteracy is a tragedy

Those are the words of the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in a speech given to launch the National Year of Reading campaign on February 14. About 4.5 million working-age adults Australians do not have the necessary higher reading and numeracy skills to succeed in work or study, Ms Gillard said. According to the The National Year of Reading 2012 project, nearly half the Australian population struggles without the literacy skills to meet the most basic demands of everyday life and work. There are 46% of Australians who can’t read newspapers; follow a recipe; make sense of timetables, or understand the instructions on a medicine bottle. This is just the latest statistical example of how illiteracy is affecting countries in all parts of the globe.

According to the UNESCO, 793 million adults suffer from illiteracy in the world. Over half of the adult population of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone are illiterate. 21% of women in the world are illiterate.

In France, 9% of the adult population suffers from functional illiteracy. Over half of the people who are functionally illiterate in France have a job.

In the United States, a study by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, showed that 22% of adults were below basic in quantitative literacy in 2003 (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills). 63 million adults – 29% of the United States adult population – over age 16 don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level. An additional 30 million – 14 % of the country’s adult population – can only read at a fifth grade level or lower.