Illiteracy impacts more than just the ability to read a book; it can also affect the success of one’s children.
Literacy is no longer simply the ability to read and write, but the ability to navigate adulthood using information. In a 2013 study, The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) defines literacy as the ability to use “printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
Using data from the 2013 NAAL Report, 12 percent of adults in Oklahoma (adult being defined as age 18 or older) functioned at “Below Basic” literacy level, while 31 percent of adults in the state met the requirements of the “Basic” literacy level. Using this terminology, only 57 percent of adult Oklahomans had above basic literacy skills.
There is no perfect, silver bullet measurement or unit to understand the rate of illiteracy, but organizations have been able to estimate rates. According to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, factors such as poverty, state employment, health and dropout rates affect a state’s literacy rates. A mother’s literacy rate is also estimated to be one of the most influential factors on her child’s future literacy levels. While it’s difficult to pin down exact rates and causes of illiteracy of any level, it’s also difficult to understand exactly how illiteracy affects individuals and their families.
For example, adults at “Basic” and “Below Basic” literacy levels may find difficulty calculating costs, fully filling out and signing forms, locating information in large texts and understanding labels on medicines. Additionally, those at these levels are more likely to experience health issues and unemployment in their lifetime, though direct causation related to literacy levels is not clear.
Low literacy levels are therefore often generational and concentrated in areas with poorer school systems. In the state of Oklahoma, approximately 20 percent of the population is lacking a 12th grade education according to the 2010 census report, and six percent have less than a ninth grade education.
Children whose mothers didn’t graduate high school are almost half as likely to be adequately prepared to enter school as compared to children whose mothers earned a Bachelor’s degree, according to data from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. In terms of difficulties with unemployment and low literacy, it also affects those employing adults with low literacy levels; in workforce non-productivity costs, or the cost to a firm from under-efficiency in workers or their labor, poor literacy skills or low literacy levels cost the nation $225 billion annually, as reported by ProLiteracy.
Sunday, Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day 2019. If you’re looking to help someone you know, or even volunteer to help someone you don’t, local libraries hold adult literacy aid sessions regularly. Addi- tionally, TU partners with Reading Partners to help bolster the reading skills of students in several Tulsa Public School elementary schools. You can visit trueblueneighbors. utulsa.edu/initiatives/reading-partners/ for contact and volunteer information.
For more specialized information, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries hosts an array of resources to help combat both early childhood illiteracy and adult illiteracy.