International Literacy Day is focusing attention on the world’s more than 774 million adults – two-thirds of which are women and 123 million are children – that don’t know how to read or write.
International Literacy Day boasts a 2013 theme of “Invent Your Future,” with a goal to promote crucial literacy skills that lead students to success in school, work and life. The International Reading Association celebrated International Literacy Day, which began in 1965 by UNESCO to raise awareness, with an event Sept. 9 in Washington, D.C.
While many may think of illiteracy as a third world problem, Government Relations for International Reading Association Director Richard Long tells VOXXI that stateside the Latino illiteracy rate is a real concern for kids and adults.
“The rates among U.S. Hispanic kids approach 50 percent,” Long said. “So, that’s 50 percent of kids in school, K through 12, that are not reading anything close to grade level and would be considered functionally illiterate.”
International Literacy Day sheds light on issue
The term literate is now being defined as having the ability to function in all facets of society. For example, the National Assessment of Education Progress has three essential levels – basic, proficient and advanced. Long said only about 30 percent of the kids in the country are hitting proficient.
While Hispanics may be literate in their own Latin American countries, those immigrating to the states run into issues.
“Let’s say you’re 15 years old and come to the United States from Peru,” Long said. “If you read and write on grade level in Spanish, when you come here the odds of you becoming English literate are high. But if you’re illiterate in your home language, the odds of you becoming literate within two years are low. It takes a lot more work.”
This is where the spirit of International Literacy Day comes into play. Long said this year’s efforts are focusing around the notion of what it means to change existing educational programs to help kids become career ready. This includes academic skills, reading at a high level, writing clearly and so forth.
“The effect is with the people who don’t have the literacy skills they need,” Long said. “Right now, the manufacturing community tells us there are 100,000 jobs open for kids who can’t be trained in the manufacturing jobs of today. You have to have pretty good literacy skills to be trained in how to operate machinery.”
Specifically, Long said the target is offering curriculum that ensures Latino students are getting the proper classes to overcome literacy instead of receiving a second-class education.
Long said one area favorable for Latino children and adults is the idea of family, which offers cohesiveness, structure, assistance and support to become literate.
The problem International Literacy Day brings to light is illiterate Latinos have limited resources through a lack of educational programs offered for adult literacy.
“So it’s a civil right that is affecting the Latino community,” Long said. “In order to really continue to make inroads and share in the American dream, we’re going to have to pay more attention to Latino dropout rates and Latino literacy skills.”
What does the future look like for illiterate Latinos?
Long said moving forward he expects the literacy rate among Latinos will rise.
“In the short run with budget cut backs it’s going to be harder on these kids,” Long said. “They’re going to have less opportunity. But there’s a certain reality: all kids really do want to learn and they’re capable of it. So in the long run, things will get better.”
At a glance, American literacy statistics look like this: (Department of education)
• 14 percent of adults can’t read.
• 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read
• 21 percent of adults read below a 5th grade level
At a glance, Latin American and Caribbean literacy statistics look like this: (UNESCO)
• The literacy rate is 91 percent for adults and 97 percent for youth.
• By 2015, those figures are expected to jump to 93 percent for adults and 98 percent for youth.