Low literacy levels have a huge impact on the progress students make at school but they also have significant longer term consequences for individuals and society. Individuals with low literacy are less employable and unlikely to progress within a work organisation. This limits their opportunities for well-paid work and, failure to find work, will mean they are welfare dependent. People with low literacy are less likely to own their own home and may be forced to live in rental accommodation, some of it substandard. They live with the stigma of low literacy and find attempting to hide it exhausting and damaging to their self-esteem.
Other problems associated with low literacy include an increased likelihood of incarceration, existing in dysfunctional relationships, poorer health and lower life expectancy. To compensate for their low literacy, individuals may be reliant on others to help with the complex literacy demands of modern life. Lack of critical literacy skills, may mean they are more likelihood to be the victims of scams.
Participation in school life – academically and socially – is more difficult for those with low literacy. They fall further behind their peers and when it all gets too difficult may have prolonged absences from school or ‘drop-out’ altogether. Once students leave school, their literacy levels stall or regress, making participation in all aspects of society difficult.
The implications of low literacy for the individual are distressing but there are serious implications for society as a whole. Growth in productivity is lower as is access to technology. Countries with low literacy levels have less power on the world stage. There is less innovation and lower Gross Domestic Product. Society is often more polarised with a wider gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
Because of the serious implications of low literacy to the individual and society, we must make all efforts to ensure that students leave school with high levels of literacy. Despite much emphasis on whole school literacy this century, far too many students are leaving school with inadequate literacy – not just for employment but for a rich life which is their right.