It’s understandable to think “literacy” simply means the ability to read. But knowing the alphabet doesn’t make you literate, and not understanding medical textbooks doesn’t make you illiterate. Literacy has different levels. At the higher levels, literacy involving understanding written information and applying it to our lives in meaningful ways.
I always assumed that most people function at fairly high literacy levels. Alarmingly, though, about half of Illinois residents lack strong literacy skills.
The facts may surprise you
According to survey from the National Center on Education and the Economy:
- Twenty-one to 24 percent of the adults in Illinois demonstrated skills in the lowest level of prose, document, and quantitative proficiencies (Level 1).
- Another 23 to 27 percent performed in the next higher level of proficiency (Level 2) on each literacy scale. While their skills were more varied than those of individuals in Level 1, their repertoire was still quite limited.
- Nearly three-quarters of Illinois residents designated as either poor or near poor demonstrated skills in Levels 1 or 2 of the literacy scale.
- One-third of the adults in Illinois reported that they never use a library, and another 31 percent said they do so only once or twice a year.
Limited literacy affects everyone
What does this mean for society? It’s not great. Limited literacy skills often influence what people read, their ability to evaluate the source of that information, and their ability to understand the implications of the information. In addition, a person armed with incomplete or inaccurate information may perceive limited choices, which can lead to poor decisions.
How do we have thoughtful debates or make fully informed decisions about subjects that shape our futures when we can’t accurately understand information—or even judge the quality of the information that we might stumble across online?
Imagine not having higher-level literacy skills to navigate through life. It would be like traveling to a new destination with incomplete or hard-to-understand directions from a GPS. You would struggle getting where you want to go.
“Those with limited literacy skills are likely to find it more challenging to pursue their goals whether these involve job advancement, consumer decision making, citizenship or other aspects of their lives,” states the report. “Literacy can be thought of as a currency in this society.”
What can we do?
Teach children the power of literacy. Read with them, provide access to good books, and turn off the television. Help adults read who cannot. Do it like the quality of their lives depends on it. Do it like the quality of our society depends on it, because it does.
More than 100,000 DuPage County residents need help improving their English skills.
Every year, Literacy DuPage serves more than 500 adult learners in more than 30 communities throughout DuPage County. But right now, our waiting list includes 300 more people who hope to be matched with a tutor. Learn more about how toor .