The ability to read and write at a basic level is necessary for survival in today's world. With the development of communications technology, people need to be able to receive, process and respond to messages on the Internet, in cell phone messages and throughout the community. Literacy is more than just reading and writing; literacy allows people to apply for a job, read instructions about their medical needs, and find their way around town.

Testing for Literacy

The National Commission on Adult Literacy is a nationally representative assessment of English literacy among American adults age 16 and older that measures how adults use printed and written information to function adequately in society. Separate scores are given for prose literacy, document literacy and quantitative literacy to help teachers narrow in on areas that need attention. Prose literacy refers to the ability to read paragraphs in the newspaper, brochures and books. Document literacy applies to reading labels, maps, payroll forms, and so forth; while quantitative literacy involves skills for using checkbooks, order forms and other paperwork with numbers.

Adult Literacy Programs

Most communities have programs for adults to learn to read or to improve their reading skills. Trained volunteers usually staff these programs, and most offer one-on-one instruction. In addition to improving reading skills, literacy programs also provide instruction in writing, basic math, English as a second language, and cultural literacy -- skills needed to function in everyday life. Public libraries in many communities offer programs for people wanting to learn to read, and other programs are sponsored by colleges -- where students often volunteer -- churches, school districts and private organizations.

Trickle-Down Literacy

Adult literacy education serves two purposes: It improves the lives of those who accomplish their reading goals, and it improves literacy rates for generations to come. In some situations, children can attend with their parents, developing an appreciation for learning. As parents achieve literacy and find better jobs, the family benefits. In addition to the academic preparation, adult students gain confidence and self-esteem. They work on skills that apply to work situations, such as time management, teamwork, the ability to set and meet goals, and ways to communicate with supervisors.

Find a Program

The U.S. Department of Education's Division of Adult Education and Literacy "promotes programs that help American adults get the basic skills they need to be productive workers, family members, and citizens. The major areas of support are Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English Language Acquisition." The division provides funding and advice to states to help them establish effective adult education and literacy programs. If you or someone you know struggles with reading or other basic skills, find a local program. Contact your public library, school district or county department of education.

Related Articles