Beth Wilder, President and Executive Director
In a recent AL.com/Birmingham News article, John Archibald (Setting ambitious goals for Alabama) challenged the state to set a goal to become a better Alabama. Challenge accepted, John. At the Literacy Council, we believe it starts with addressing illiteracy in our state.
There are more than 92,000 functionally illiterate adults in Central Alabama alone. That makes up our service area of Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker Counties. In the three areas of improvement John outlined in his article, addressing the issue of illiteracy will go a long way in reaching our goal of becoming a better state. Don’t believe me? Take a look.
John nailed it on the head with this statement: Improving education is hard, because so much of it starts in the home. Illiteracy can create a self perpetuating cycle passed from parents to their children. But it is a cycle that can be broken by educating the parents. Children’s literacy levels are strongly linked to the educational levels of their parents, especially the mother. Adults with lower literacy skills are less likely to read to their children and do not have the ability to assist children with homework. Children who have not already developed basic literacy skills by kindergarten are three to four times more likely to drop out of school. When parents improve their education, obtain a GED or high school diploma, their children show improvement as well and are more likely to stay in school.
The Literacy Council offers FREE one-on-one basic reading tutoring at our office downtown and at dozens of sites around the five-county area. Hundreds of well-trained volunteer tutors are our boots-on-the-ground across Central Alabama helping us achieve our mission. TLC also works with children’s literacy agencies such as Better Basics to ensure the entire family is served.
Low literacy has a direct impact on crime and recidivism. Research shows that 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems, and two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Seven of 10 prisoners in the United States perform in the lowest two literacy levels, and the average reading level for Alabama’s inmates is only 5th grade.
The Literacy Council has been working with the Alabama Prison Re-Entry Executive Committee to improve educational opportunities for inmates. TLC has trained inmates in three Alabama prisons to become basic literacy tutors and ESOL teachers. These men and women are teaching their fellow inmates to read and to speak English, giving them valuable skills that are the basis of all education. It is imperative to keep re-entry initiatives alive because improving the educational levels of inmates will ultimately have an impact on Alabama’s recidivism rate.
Archibald also discussed the impact of high poverty and low health rankings. Again, there is a direct connection between illiteracy and these issues that plague our state.
Seventy-five percent of unemployed adults have reading or writing difficulties and 75 percent of all food stamp recipients perform in the two lowest levels of literacy. One of the greatest barriers to economic development and growth is the absence of a literate workforce. More than 60% of front line workers in goods-producing industries have difficulty applying information from text to a required task.
Illiteracy significantly limits a person’s ability to access, understand and apply health-related information and messages. This results in poor household and personal health, hygiene and nutrition. According to the AMA, individuals with low health literacy incur medical expenses up to four times greater than patients with adequate literacy skills. Twenty-four percent of patients with low literacy skills do not know how to take medication as directed. Illiterate adults, particularly mothers, are more likely to have poor nutritional and hygiene practices in their homes leading, to a higher rate of disease, accidents, and other health issues.
Yes, John, we accept your challenge. The TLC staff, board, and volunteers pledge to help make Alabama a better place by addressing the illiteracy issue because literacy is key to solving these problems. But we can’t do it alone. We need you. Whether it’s as a tutor, an ambassador or a donor, we need you as we work to teach adults to read and to speak English and change their lives for the better. Together we can work to make Alabama a better place, as Archibald said:
For our children.
For our people.
Sources: National Center for Adult Literacy, ProLiteracy Worldwide, U.S. Department of Labor, National Institute for Literacy, National Bureau of Economics, American Medical Association, U.S. Census, National Assessment of Adult Literacy