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Functional illiteracy refers to the inability of an individual to use reading, writing, and computational skills efficiently in everyday life situations.

Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Unlike an illiterate, someone who is functionally illiterate is able to read and write text in his native language. However, he does so with a variable degree of grammatical correctness, speed, and style, and cannot perform fundamental tasks as filling out an employment application, following written instructions, reading a newspaper, reading traffic signs, consulting a dictionary, or understanding a bus schedule. In short, when confronted with printed materials, adults without basic literacy skills cannot function effectively in modern society.

Functional illiteracy also severely limits interaction with information and communication technologies (i.e. using a personal computer to work with a word processor, a web browser, a spreadsheet application, or using a mobile phone) adequately and efficiently. Functional illiteracy probably explains survey results that show one third of the population say they are "computer-phobic".

Links with poverty and crime[edit | edit source]

Those who are functionally illiterate may be subject to social intimidation, health risks, stress, low income, and other pitfalls associated with their inability.

The correlation between crime and functional illiteracy is well-known to criminologists and sociologists throughout the world. In the early 2000s, it was estimated that 60% of adults in federal and state prisons in the United States were functionally or marginally illiterate, and 85% of juvenile offenders had problems associated with reading, writing, and basic mathematics.

Prevalence[edit | edit source]

In the United States, according to Business magazine, an estimated 15 million functionally illiterate adults held jobs at the beginning of the 21st century. The American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) reported that 75% of the Fortune 500 companies provide some level of remedial training for their workers.

In the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph (14.06.06) "one in six British adults lacks the literacy skills of an 11-year-old". The UK government's Department for Education reported in 2006 that 47 percent of school children left school at age 16 without having achieved a basic level in functional maths, and 42 percent fail to achieve a basic level of functional English.

Research findings[edit | edit source]

A Literacy at Work study, published by the Northeast Institute in 2001, found that business losses attributed to basic skill deficiencies run into billions of dollars a year due to low productivity, errors, and accidents attributed to functional illiteracy.

Sociological research has demonstrated that countries with lower levels of functional illiteracy among their adult populations tend to be those with the highest levels of scientific literacy among the lower stratum of young people nearing the end of their formal academic studies. This correspondence suggests that a contributing factor to a society's level of civic literacy is the capacity of schools to assure the students attaining the functional literacy required to comprehend the basic texts and documents associated with competent citizenship. [1]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. SASE - Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics — Civic Literacy: How Informed Citizens Make Democracy Work Henry Milner, Umeå University and Université Laval, accessed May 2006

See also[edit | edit source]

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