The Literacy Challenge

Adult literacy can change everything.

Health. Gender equality. Poverty. Every important social issue is impacted by low literacy. When individuals learn how to read, write, do basic math, and use computers, they have the power to lift themselves out of poverty, lower health care costs, find and keep sustainable employment, and ultimately change their lives.  -

Some causes of low literacy

Low literacy in individuals stems from different, sometimes inter-related causes such as:

  • Undiagnosed learning disabilities

  • Hearing or vision loss

  • No one in the family or household stresses reading or education

  • Poverty or a focus on survival needs rather than education

  • Violence in the community or bullying at school, causing a student to miss large amounts of school

  • Moving from one school to another throughout childhood, so that education was disjointed

  • Leaving school at a young age to care for a sick or dying family member or to provide income for the family

Some consequences of low literacy

  • Higher rates of unemployment

  • Low-literate adults who are employed often turn down promotions or advancement opportunities because they fear the paperwork that will be required

  • Lower income and lower-quality jobs

  • More workplace accidents, take longer to recover and more often misuse medication because they have trouble reading and understanding the relevant information (warnings, dosage, contraindications, etc.)

  • Perpetuating cycles of intergenerational low literacy

  • Lower levels of community and civic participation

Barriers to getting help

Despite the numerous advantages associated with undertaking literacy or basic training, low literacy individuals face barriers that often prevent them from moving ahead.

  • Family constraints

  • Individuals’ own history of past learning experiences (e.g., doing badly at school)

  • Pessimistic outlook and low self-esteem

  • Lack of confidence in their ability to learn

  • Lack of money

  • Schedule conflict with paid job

  • Distance from training site

  • Concerns with the program: duration, level of difficulty, anxiety about being able to work at their own pace and relevance of content offered

  • Difficulty dealing with change

  • Shame at having their problem revealed to others