Consequences of Literacy Difficulties
Two things happened this week to inspire this article.
- In a conversation I had with a public health advisor regarding the increase in a certain communicable disease, it was presented that one of the significant challenges facing public health is poor health literacy – which is underscored by poor general literacy.
- I read a statement by former US President Ronald Reagan. He said “All great change in America (insert own country) begins at the dinner table”.
In reflecting on the public health advisors statement, I considered the question: What are the long-term consequences of poor literacy? Does poor literacy in childhood result in difficulty navigating adult responsibilities? These responsibilities may include finances, ongoing education, employment and health.
The latest statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) provides insight into the current state of literacy in Australia. Here are some figures:
- Approximately 7.3 million Australians have difficulty with reading and writing.
- In Year 4, approximately one in four children is not meeting international reading benchmarks.
- Around 75,000 students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 who sat the NAPLAN did not meet national minimum standards.
- In 2006, 59% of adults had level 1 (19%) or level 2 (40%) literacy skills. Skill levels ranged from Level 1 (lowest) through to Level 5 (highest). Skill Level 3 is considered the minimum literacy level required to allow individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life.
- This same 59% had significant difficulty with health literacy (e.g. locating information on prescription about the maximum number of days medicine should be taken, or drawing a line on a container indicating where ‘one-third’ would be).
Individual needs vary across a lifespan, so literacy needs will vary. However, there are generic core areas that are significantly affected by low levels of reading and writing.
Most, if not all financial management involves literacy. Whether it be reading bank statements, determining superannuation or setting up online banking, financial literacy involves an understanding of money and finances, in addition, simply understanding terms, conditions and requirements can prove problematic. Poor financial literacy may also reduce a person’s autonomy over personal financial decisions.
Health and Safety
As identified by the public health advisor, poor or low literacy levels present a significant obstacle to optimal health and safety. The ability to access and use health information is a core skill and allows people to make informed decisions and maintain basic health. Low levels of health literacy impacts personal and family health decisions and also affects tasks such as reading prescriptions, dosage instructions, disease information, seeking screening tests and understanding health risks.
Education and Income
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, literacy skills within a population are linked with levels of education and work force participation. It is true that literacy only represents a portion of a person’s overall skills and abilities; however, those with higher levels of literacy tend to have higher income (ABS, 2006). Lower literacy levels can also limit the types of jobs available and influence career advancement. It is not always the case, but adults who have difficulties reading and writing may also have difficulty passing on good reading habits to their children. When children reach school age, many early communication milestones that support early literacy should have been achieved. Parents are in the prime position to support their child’s early communication and literacy milestones.
Literacy levels also affect performance of everyday tasks. Adults can describe literacy difficulties in a variety of way with one adult literacy centre recording that clients report some of the following:
- “I cannot read street signs or maps. I want to pass a driving test.”
- “I read so slow, I get frustrated.”
- “I am not sure if I have read my medicine instructions correctly.”
- “If I could read and write, I could do anything.”
(Drake University Adult Literacy Centre, 2013)
It is also evident that low levels of literacy can affect a person across their lifespan. As mentioned above, early literacy skills start developing before school and parents play a vital role in facilitating this development. Next week I will be blogging about how parents can promote reading and writing skills in the home.
While supporting early literacy is vital, it is possible for adults to engage in the process of improving literacy. Anyone can improve his or her literacy skills, regardless of age. A speech pathologist is able to support children and adults literacy skills.
Contact us for results focused speech therapy
This article was written by our speech pathologist Jenna Butterworth who is a Speech Pathology Australia member.
If you have questions about children’s and adults literacy skills, contact your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a speech pathologist in Sydney. Contact us today!
We see children and adults for all areas of speech therapy.
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2006. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013. Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia, 2011-2012
3. Drake University. 2013. Adult Literacy Centre