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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has stated that one out of every five adults is unable to read or write. This statistic indicates that approximately one-fifth of the world's adult population is illiterate. The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) shows that in the United States, 11 million adults are non-literate in English and 30 million have very limited skills - including the ability to follow simple written directions or find information in a short passage - and are unable to complete simple, everyday reading and writing tasks.
These numbers are quite alarming. The ability to read and write, also referred to as literacy, is very important. It expands employment opportunities as well as political and cultural awareness. Literacy helps fight poverty by providing skills for employment and even supports improved health through wellness and health education. Improved self-esteem and empowerment are also major benefits of literacy. Adults with poor literacy skills are unlikely to read to their children. This can lead to their children lagging behind in letter recognition and other reading skills when they enter school as well as being at a higher risk of dropping out of school later.
What is being done to improve the percentage of adults who are able to read and write? Unfortunately, education reform doesn't help those who have left the educational system. There are, however, many agencies dedicated to promoting and increasing literacy in adults. UNESCO is dedicated to improving dialogues between global cultures so that they can come together to work toward common goals, one of which is literacy. They are funding research to promote literacy for life. Their initiatives include programs to promote empowerment, lifelong learning, and learning societies through literacy.
The Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL) is an agency that promotes the advancement of adult education and literacy opportunities in the United States. They have funded special research projects that focus on adult literacy as well as offering activities that strive to initiate change and action towards increased literacy for adults.
The US Department of Education has an Office of Vocational and Adult Education which has literacy division. Funds are provided to states to use for adult education and literacy programs and services. Education resources by state may be found here, with links and email addresses to obtain more information. The National Institute for Literacy offers a directory for literacy services. By entering a zip code and indicating what kind of assistance is being sought, the site provides programs within a specified distance.
For countries other than the US, UNESCO has information on literacy programs in Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Each country is profiled and programs are reviewed. Contact information is provided for those interested in any of the programs.
Adult literacy is important for achieving an optimal quality of life for adults and their children. Support literacy programs by volunteering or donating in your area.