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Illiteracy is the inability to read and write at an adequate level of proficiency that is critical for communication. Illiterate adults are unable to use printed and written information to function in the society so as to achieve one’s goals and also to develop one’s potential.  According to an international nonprofit ProLiteracy in 2003, there are 36 million adults in the United States alone. This potential includes a broad range of information-processing skills that one can use daily in school and at the community as a whole. Adult illiteracy has become a societal problem because illiterate people can never fully utilize writing and reading skills to make use of their fully potential in the world. The thesis statement of adult illiteracy involves reasons why it identified as a societal problem; the solutions proposed to solve this problem and the statistical information of adult literacy as the global societal problem.

Different types of society exist. These types of illiteracy are technological illiteracy, mathematical illiteracy, visual illiteracy, school illiteracy, community illiteracy and personal illiteracy. All these types of illiteracy are caused by various reasons. These reasons are summarized in the following discussion.

Causes of Adult Illiteracy

People are usually mistaken about illiteracy. School illiteracy is overvalued to the extent that many adults have started to believe the act of reading and writing are the only important things in school. It is this type of reasoning that make many adults less interested in wanting to gain more knowledge and see things beyond the negative images. This has become one of the main reasons why adult illiteracy has increased in the world over the last few years.

Another reason for adult illiteracy is the misuse of groups. Some people tend to agree with the argument that can make one believe that he or she is weak as a reader and he or she won’t be able to achieve literacy even after finishing school. This type of thinking lowers someone’s self-esteem and self-confidence meaning that the person will not bother to seek literacy help. People’s reading attitude are influential in literacy behaviors. According to McKenna in 2001, reading attitudes are influenced by factors such as a person’s social experiences with reading, one’s personal experiences, the cultural norms about reading, cultural norms and the learner’s preferences about reading. Attitude is associated with unwillingness to read. Every learning experience that a child has in school will at some point determine how that child will determine to learn. The learners who have had negative experiences in school will come to view school and learning in total as a bad experience that. This disengagement spreads over to adults. An adult learner who has negative perceptions about school would not want to be associated with it. These learners never get interested in educational process because they don’t see it as valuable. He or she may graduate with a degree or diploma but with very minimal skills. In the long term, these attitudes lead to adult literacy.

Adult illiteracy can also be caused by the background of the family. If a child is born in a family that does not value education or where the family members cannot read or write, the child will think that literacy is not very important and therefore he or she won’t bother. As classwork becomes harder for this type of learner, he or she will drop out of school quickly due to lack of motivation from the parents. This type of learner will become an adult with poor skills, and this habit will be passed to their children. Most parents have that willingness to help their children and show them the importance of illiteracy, but they are unable to because of lack of necessary skills.

Another leading cause of education is high population growth. Population growth can affect the quality of education and the budget allocation. Most families that have more than the standard number of family members will terminate the education of some members to let other members continue with education. The family members whose education is terminated will find some other way to look after the family. This would mean that they will look for employment opportunities which don’t require any form of skilled labor. In the third world countries, there are cases where the budget allocation does not cover for proper education facilities due to high population growth. A populous environment, therefore, encourages adult illiteracy. (Top 10 causes of illiteracy in the world, 2016).

Economic condition is also one of the main causes of illiteracy in the world. Hard economic conditions subject people to poverty. It is very hard to concentrate on a class if a learner is hungry. Poor people engage in providing cheap labor so that they can sustain themselves. The few money that they get from working is not enough to pay for education. Poverty is a key factor that causes illiteracy in adult people in the world.

Adult illiteracy is one the major societal problems in the world. It interferes with the economic and social development of a country. In a modern country, the success of a country is determined by the level of education that its people have because of it these people that elect the people who form the government. If these people are not educated and enlightened, then there is a possibility of them being exploited. For this reason, adult illiteracy is very critical in ensuring that the democratic institutions function properly.

This societal problem of adult illiteracy is spread among many different communities in the world. In India, for example, young people join the workforce at a tender age instead of going to school to gain an education. Over 60% of the population in this country depend on agriculture for survival. Parents usually consider the male children as workers from an early stage and expect them to give helping hands in farming fields. Parents are reluctant to take children to school to gain education because they will be deprived of the workforce that these children provide. The educated children are unfit for farming because they prefer to live in cities away from rural homes where farming usually takes place. If these children who are subjected to labor, would be left to get training in their field of choice, then there is a possibility that adult illiteracy would reduce and these children will make their lives better. Literacy programs should, therefore, be linked with work and the life of people so that they act as a tool for developing rural areas.

The audio-visual platforms are very useful in spreading the awareness about education among the illiterate people. Televisions, for example, have family programs that are centered on, family planning, child welfare, education that are educative. Radio is also a useful tool in designing programs that are very useful in educating the illiterate the importance of education.

Various educational institutions have begun correspondence courses which do not always require regular attendance. This type of learning is designed for students who may have discontinued their formal education due to different factors. These courses have benefitted the people who perceive education as a life-long activity, and they may want to refresh their knowledge about a particular discipline or even to acquire new knowledge. The idea of distance learning is welcomed by these people.

Effects of Adult Illiteracy


Adult illiteracy has continued to spread in the whole according to recent studies. Over 28% of people in the world are illiterate according to a study conducted by World Statistics Institute. Another related study by the same company shows that the rate at which illiteracy levels increases in the world is 31%. These figures are imperative because illiteracy has different effects on any society. The higher the number of people in a country, the harder it will be for a country to develop. Illiteracy is an inhibitor of development in any setup or institution. An example of this fact is this: the United States is one of the most developed countries in the world, and it has an illiterate level of 5%. Canada which is also a developed country has only an illiterate rate of 85. This shows that for a country to develop it must reduce its illiteracy levels. On the other hand, Turkey has an illiterate rate of 61%. This rate has inhibited development in the country because they are an underdeveloped country. Iran which is also underdeveloped has an illiterate rate of 43%.

Another significant effect of illiteracy there is lack of competition in the new global knowledge economy. Literacy gives people the ability to compete for jobs and positions in prominent institutions in the economy. Lack of education renders many positions to remain vacant for the lack of trained people to take these positions. Therefore illiteracy deprives many people the opportunity of earning livelihood and passing their knowledge to people who may need it.

Illiterate people do not have the ability to scrutinize things well, and they tend to believe things too easily. They do not investigate what they are told, and this can make them prone to being conned or cheated. The society has portrayed uneducated people as slaves and assistants while the educated people in the society are seen as leaders and people who can take the society forward on matters of development. The difficulty in understanding social issues lowers the level of community involvement and its participation in civil affairs.

Adult illiteracy also has negative impact on the health of the people concerned. Illiterate individuals experience more accidents due to ignorance. The illiterates also have the tendency of misusing medication because either they do not understand the importance of the medication or they do not know how to read the relevant information in medication which are the warnings, dosage, contradictions, etc. Misuse of medication has adverse effects on an individual and can even lead to death.

Solutions to Adult Illiteracy

According to Quigley, B. Allan in 2002, adult illiteracy has been a global problem for a very long time even though the definitions and statistics keep changing. The focus of this problem has been highlighted by the media. Adult illiteracy has been identified as one of the key areas that need improvement. Each state is required to focus on this issue to help alleviate problems. In 1991, the National Literacy Act was passed by the United States Congress. The primary goal of the formation of this Act was to enhance the skills of adults and ensure that all the adults in the United States acquire the necessary skills that must ensure them to do any job effectively. The goal of the act was to ensure all people become educated in the country. The Literacy Act was also intended to strengthen the programs that offer adult literacy education to everyone that is illiterate. These programs received both federal and state funding, and they were aimed at increasing everyone’s ability to read, write and carry on with their work. This act was followed by the launch of America’s Reads Challenge in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. The main aim of this challenge was to help and increase literacy among all the people of the family. It has been noted that if a child grows up in an illiterate family, that child will remain to be illiterate themselves because the members of the family will not expose him or her to the importance of illiteracy. This is usually known as the cycle of illiteracy. This cycle brought the need for the America’s Reads Challenge since strengthening the literacy of the whole family would help the children in that family to be exposed to the importance of education. In France, the French National Agency started a campaign aiming to make the fight against illiteracy a national cause in 2013. The current political commitment to focus on education in the country is a real opportunity for the nation to deal with the problem of illiteracy for the proper cause of the country. The country intends to improve primary schools, middle schools, and high schools to reduce illiteracy in the coming few years. (Nicole Bella, 2012).

In spite of all these efforts from the government in coming up with policies that assist in promoting literacy, there has been the microscopic improvement in the fight to end adult illiteracy. Lack of intended progress in this fight has been blamed on many reasons. One of these reasons is that there is lack of a universal method that can be used to address the illiteracy problem among the people. There are various programs that with different objectives that depend on the learners themselves, funding or the objective which it represents.

Another reason as to why these programs initiated by the government to end illiteracy are not effective is that most of these programs that focus on eradicating adult illiteracy believe that adults only need skills for him the only purpose of economic benefit. This is very wrong and sends message to people that there is no any other importance of getting literacy skills other than to make more and have a high living standard, which is not the main purpose to some people. If an adult has a job even though he or she is not illiterate, he or she may not see the need to acquire these skills live well.

Apart from the United States, other countries have also started passing legislation acts to address this issues. Brazil is one of such countries. The country has been having adult illiteracy programs for almost 70 years, and many Brazilians see his issue as an act of patriotism, (eradicating adult illiteracy in the country). Kenya is another example of a country that is focused on dealing with the issue of adult illiteracy. The government of Kenya started the program of offering free primary education to every child in the country in the year of 2003. This program was aimed at ensuring that everyone in the country gets access to education so that adult illiteracy can be done away with in the long run.

Other than government policies, another strategy that can deal with illiteracy is utilizing engaging, practical and self-chosen texts in different forms. The high-interest text will attract the learner into wanting to read them. Practical texts assist the learner to realize how literacy can help him work well in society. These informative texts provide the learner with more information on the topic that one is studying. They work together provide am an environment in which the student can see the several uses of literacy. Self-selection gives the learner some confidence and necessary skills to deal with illiteracy.

Avoidance of techniques such as ability grouping is important in promoting literacy. Grouping individuals according to their abilities to learn will create a wrong impression among the learners because those that are placed in the lowest group will keep in mind the notion that they are weak students. The grouping brings a negative image and learners begin to lack self-confidence regarding education. This mindset is carried on to adulthood discouraging an individual’s eagerness to pursue further education. Eliminating these ability groups will give learners confidence and work with their peers to gain the necessary skills together. These learning groupings can be done without discriminating the understanding capabilities so that all the people can learn and discuss together.

The government and other private institutions can provide funds and incentives to encourage people to go to learning institutions. Rewards can be a motivation to many people to read. Motivation is the main force that pushes people to learn how to read and write. It increases the eagerness of someone to perform better. Parents can also be discouraged to work with their children and help in explaining to them the importance of education. This strategy will show the children the importance of education and help them to focus on wanting to improve their skills in learning. This solution was witnessed in Kenya in 2003. The government started sponsoring education programs to enable everyone to afford the primary education. Free primary education was made free at all public schools. Secondary education was also made affordable to people who couldn’t afford by providing funds to needy students. This was a turning point in the fight against illiteracy in the country according to Salome Gichura who is National EFA Co-coordinator in Nairobi.

Use of constructivist methodology to teaching literacy skills is important to adult learners. This approach enables the adult learners to construct their understanding and control how they want to learn. An adult is given the impression that he is in control, which makes learning appear more fun. An adult is used to be in control of their life so when they are given control of their learning there will be no negativity. This approach is usually used to enable the learner to overcome bad learning attitude. This learning approach can also enable the student to benefit from the use of the internet or distance-learning programs. (Krishnan 2000). The use of internet in passing literacy skills is very effective. The Internet has a broad range of topics that a learner can choose, and therefore it expands the knowledge of the learner. Learning via the Internet is also fun because there are no complicated and hard to understand techniques involved. Distance learning is also a way of making reluctant adult learners read. This type of learning uses some technology component, and therefore more people will be curious and eager to learn. Online platforms for learning are very private and confidential than conventional learning systems. This will help to eradicate the stigma that adult learners go through in their efforts to gain literacy skills.

Departments in organizations can organize for adult learning for its employees to increase their productivity in the workplace. These learning programs are usually organized by human resource departments. Employees who have literacy issues are taken care of, and the issue is addressed by organizing learning programs. It is important to note that literacy for the purpose of working is the primary goal, but it can also sharpen the general skills of an individual. The involvement of human resource departments always brings positive results. However, the most important way to reduce illiteracy in the society is being united. (How Illiteracy Can Be Eradicated In Our Society, 2013). It is up to both the government and the persons responsible for working together to achieve the goal of eradicating poverty in the society. Even though many third world countries are in severe economic problems, the UN, UNICEF, and others are willing to help in such a course.

Statistical Information

According to a study commissioned by Congress in the year 2002, the National Educational Statistics found out nearly 40 million functionally illiterate adults are not able to perform the basic reading and writing tasks that are required by an individual to function well in the society. 50 million adults only have marginal literacy skills. The individuals who have some literacy skills but they cannot read or write known as the functionally illiterate.

According to UNESCO, nearly 17% of the world’s total population is illiterate while two-thirds of these numbers are women, making gender inequality more evident. Illiteracy among the youth is also a big challenge. An estimated 122 million youths are illiterate in the world with women representing 60.7% of this figure.  There are about 67.4 million children out of school who may experience illiteracy problems in the future due to lack of primary education.  Another 775 million adults lack the minimum literacy skills in the world. (Statistics on Literacy, 2015). These figures indicate ha a good number of people in the world are illiterate. The figures provided by UNESCO are almost perfect because this is the body of the UN that deals with the societal problems of the world. The 17% of illiterate people in the world can be reduced to below 10$ if all the stakeholders unite and decide to fight against this phenomenon. The 67.4 million children out of school can be absorbed back into the education system to enable the gain literacy skills to reduce the number further.

The graph above shows the literate and illiterate world population from the year 1800 to 2014.

As it is seen, literacy rates grew consistently, but it started to slow down until the beginning of the twentieth century. The rate of growth then started climbing after the middle of the 20th century hen the need for literacy skills became a global priority. (Roser and 0rtiz-Ospina, 2015). This shows that global literacy has grown in the last two centuries. The data used to make this graph was obtained from the data from OECD and UNESCO, which are global institutions that seek to address the problems facing the world including, illiteracy.

As the number of illiteracy grows, technological advances make the jobs for people with low literacy skills less available. This has an adverse effect on the economy of the United States. Many jobs require literacy skills. Lack of these skills could cause the cycle of poverty to continue among families. Illiteracy can also cause lack of competition in the workplace. This will leave many jobs unfilled due to lack of qualified candidates. This causes gaps in jobs industry which hinder the economy of the country.

Future trends.

As this problem persists, it warrants some further study and research on the topic. First of all, there is an urge to the programs that work best for the students. These programs must work best with different cultures. Secondly, there is a need to study the effectiveness of specific technological programs that can be used with the illiterate adults. These trends are necessary for the fight against illiteracy. They need to be introduced at the community level so that they may help as many people as possible to gain an education.


Adult illiteracy is no longer an issue that can be overlooked or be thought as the problem of the underprivileged people in society. There is a need for good education programs in the world to deal with this issue. There are different strategies that can be employed to overcome this problem of illiteracy as discussed above. It takes meeting unique instructional needs and using current constructive methods to achieve this success. The problem of illiteracy needs to be addressed by families, nations and the whole world as a whole. Over 880 million adults are illiterate in the world. It is assumed that most of these adults live in the underdeveloped world, but the assumption is wrong. Many countries have joined in the fight against adult illiteracy, and if the needed effort is put into the fight, the problem will be overcome by the world.


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