The Importance of Literacy: Five Key Statistics

It probably comes as no surprise that we are extremely passionate about reading here. In our opinion it is the single most important journey that our young people embark on in school, so it’s important that we (as educators, policy setters, parents and providers aka adults) get it right.

If you don’t agree with us, or you just haven’t thought about it for a while, we picked out our top five statistics from The National Literacy Trust (https://literacytrust.org.uk) any beyond that highlight just how immense an impact reading and writing ability has on the future of our young people:

1.    High levels of literacy equate to better pay

At minimum wage, possessing functional literacy skills is worth over £1/hour when compared to low literacy. This equates to a 16% gap across the board, which is quite a considerable chunk especially when scaled up to a weekly or monthly rate. That is just compared to functional literacy, imagine if we extrapolated those figures all the way to those earners with high levels of literacy. 

This leads to a shocking revelation for some. The wage gap is a literacy gap. It isn’t just wages that are affected though: there are knock-on effects that impact social mobility, community access etc. Low literacy levels are linked to higher rates of benefits, greater chance of homelessness, poor living standards and longer periods of unemployment. A literate society is a high functioning one.

Source: Morrisroe, J. (2014). Literacy Changes Lives: A new perspective on health, employment and crime. London: National Literacy Trust.  

2.    Literacy levels impact on health

This conclusion can be easily rationalised; if you struggle to read your grasp of information related to your health and medicines will be hampered, making it more difficult to make correct decisions. The statistics back this up. 

Adults with low levels of literacy are more likely to smoke, have poor health, drink heavily and be obese. It also makes adults up to 18 times less likely to be able to recognise their medications, and far less likely to be able to show how to use them correctly. 

Source: Morrisroe, J. (2014). Literacy Changes Lives: A new perspective on health, employment and crime. London: National Literacy Trust. https://literacytrust.org.uk/documents/652/2014_09_01_free_research_-_literacy_changes_lives_2014.pdf.pdf

3.    Literacy inequality in the UK is higher than the majority of the rest of the world 

We hear so much about the economic gap in society. The wealthy becoming even more so while the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UK, where major news outlets regularly report facts and findings (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47370739) without much offer of an explanation as to why. 

An OEDC international Survey of Adults Skills (http://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/) shows that, particularly in England, those at the top and bottom of the wage scale are also incredibly inequal in terms of literacy levels, more so than any other of the 34 surveyed countries other than Russia. As mentioned earlier, this shows furthermore that the wage gap is a literacy gap, so helping our young people to become literate appears one of the most obvious ways to go about closing it.  

4.    Literacy rates in the UK are stagnant

That’s right; our youngest generation are no more literate than our eldest. This might not sound like a crisis as our eldest generation may have had access to a better education system than the majority of the world at the time. It is a relative statistic dependent on starting point. The issue arises when one discovers the findings are in stark contrast to the rest of the world, where literacy rates are increasing across the board. 

It implies our educational system faces some unique challenges, as does every country, but that we are struggling to solve them. 

Source: Morrisroe, J. (2014). Literacy Changes Lives: A new perspective on health, employment and crime. London: National Literacy Trust. https://literacytrust.org.uk/documents/652/2014_09_01_free_research_-_literacy_changes_lives_2014.pdf.pdf

5.    Teachers think technology has the answers 

A 2019 survey of UK teachers showed that there were lots of positive feelings about the potential for technology in the classroom, but that it wasn’t always realised.

An overwhelming majority of respondents felt that technology could principally be of benefit to engage (87%) and enable (67%) pupils, and this was particularly relevant when it came to literacy where almost 70% felt it has, or could have, a positive impact on reluctant readers. 

The report unearthed some major issues however, with less than half using technology to support literacy regularly, while rather worryingly just over one fifth said they never used it. This suggests that while the world outside changes at a swift pace and technology becomes ever more engrained in society, many of our young people are still being educated in similar ways to thirty years ago. Perhaps this explains some of the stagnation in literacy rates already mentioned. 

Why such limited take up? Well, less than half of respondents felt that technology saved them time with planning and resource creation, which is staggering at a time when teacher workload is under the spotlight. It suggests that technological solutions simply aren’t working well enough for teachers at the moment. Literacy education is a golden triangle between teacher, student and parent or guardian. Too much focus on one can leave the others struggling. 

There are further barriers to integration, and they are almost exclusively resource-related. Many respondents lamented a lack of hardware, software and wifi (58%) and/or sufficient funding (52%), which implies (as if we didn’t already know) that budgets are stretched.

Source: Picton, I. (2019). Teachers’ use of technology to support literacy in 2018, London: National Literacy Trust. https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/teachers-and-tech/

 

When faced with cold hard facts, the statistics surrounding literacy rates are shocking. A child’s ability to read and write is fostered early but has an immense impact on their future journey as an adult. As a society we must begin to realise that improving literacy in our young people should be a priority, and within a generation should lead to less strain on other areas of the public sector as adults require less state support. 

Teachers feel technology has the potential to solve some issues; perhaps we should be listening to them and offering more support as parents and as members of society.