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Literacy issues, their impact and how we can help

12/12/2019
door Jake Walsh
Taal: EN

The purpose of this blog post is literacy and some of the social effects of impaired literacy, along with some possible solutions and resources we can use to improve literacy in the general population.

Literacy is the use of reading, writing and numbers to function and exist in everyday society, to achieve goals and potentially develop one’s knowledge. To take an active part in life and be an equal member of society, this has influence on our lives from the ability to understand and receive information. So for example, I have to ask myself why there are so many people in Ireland living with literacy issues?

One in six Irish adults aged between 16 and 64 (521.550 people) find reading and performing everyday tasks difficult such as; reading medicine instructions, leaflets and bus timetables. One in four of us (754.000 people) have difficulty using maths in everyday life in areas like addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.

Literacy issues can also cause people to have difficulty with using technology effectively, which is an increasing challenge as we move further into a more digital world. We need to address this growing matter with any and every means possible that will encourage people to not be ashamed of something that is not their fault, once this is achieved they can become a more active and critical participating member of society and begin to address issues of social exclusion and poverty more effectively in society.

We need to encourage people with literacy difficulties that there is help out there for every situation they are finding themselves in and to encourage businesses, television stations, radio stations, social media, newspapers to get the word out that there is help out there for whatever literacy difficulties you may have and that help is available. That there are courses out there and that we are here to help.

As seen in the above statistics, the number of adults with literacy issues is staggeringly high compared to the rest of Europe. The rate of adults (between sixteen and sixty-five years old) with literacy issues in Ireland is 17.5%, in Sweden it’s 13% and in Finland it’s only 10%. For those working in the further education field it is almost a given that a high proportion of our students will have literacy issues. In order to fully meet their diverse needs it is not enough to just work on basic skills, but we also need to understand our students holistically. Something or someone prohibited them from achieving a full grasp of literacy. These reasons are diverse and include:

  • Poverty

  • Social background

  • Age

  • Traumatic school experiences

  • Special needs (diagnosed or undiagnosed)

  • Lack of opportunity

  • Culture

But the impacts are the same:

Emotional; shame, embarrassment, feeling inadequate, low self esteem and confidence, fear. Fear may mean keeping it a secret from even those closest to them. Leading them to revolve their life around concealing it.

Impacts on everyday activities; literacy issues can cause trouble following directions and reading signposts, timetables, recipes, ingredients, making lists, assembly instructions, text messages, emails, booking or ordering online or banking to name a few.

Bigger impact on life overall; inability to assist children with schoolwork, social anxiety, going for promotion, changing career, important forms and documents and are all made much harder and can cause an inability to manage finances, not to mention it can cause less autonomy in day to day life.

We may not always know our students background but if we can understand how their lives are impacted we can build compassion and create a learning environment conducive to their needs.

The ETB (Educational training board) in Dublin ran a training programme tasking participating educators, before they worked with students, to spend a day doing normal activities without using their literacy. It is a profound and humbling experience if you want to try it yourself. It builds empathy and you will certainly never take literacy for granted again.

To help us teach literacy we can make use of a number of resources and exercises. For example, the Addiquiz app is an interactive chalkboard phone application with a drag and drop feature that the student can use to solve simple sums in an intuitive, easy to understand fashion. Other useful apps include bubble maths!, an online game that makes learning maths a fun rather than excessively academic routine.

There are also websites that we, as tutors, can utilise. NALA, for example, runs a website which includes online activities to improve upon spelling, numeracy, reading, writing and other domains of literacy. NALA itself has a website which includes information, resources and services dedicated to improving literacy in Ireland through social, academic and online means.

In conclusion, the purpose of this blog post was to bring attention to the issue of literacy in Ireland, the impacts that this can have on an individual’s life both socially and emotionally and outline some potential resources for helping improve upon literacy when working with students.

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