Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Literacy 2010 (and Beyond)

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Literacy 2010 (and Beyond)

Article excerpt

As a requirement for obtaining voting rights in post-Civil War America, "literacy" was once defined as simply the ability to sign one's name. Today, literacy means much more. The United Nations (U.N.) defines a literate person as someone who can "read and write, with understanding, a short, simple statement related to his or her daily life" (UNESCO 2008, p. 257). The good news is that, according to a 2008 U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, worldwide adult illiteracy has decreased by one-third in the last 20 years. Surely, this is one of the great achievements of recent time. Still, illiteracy remains a problem, with an estimated 776 million adults--roughly 16% of the world's adult population--lacking basic literacy skills (about two-thirds are women). The UNESCO report notes that "too many children are receiving an education of such poor quality that they leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills" (UNESCO 2008, p. i).

In the United States, the picture is brighter, but far from rosy. A 2003 study found that literacy inequities remain present across socioeconomic and ethnic divisions, and for individuals diagnosed with learning disabilities. According to the study, 27-30 million American adults had "below basic" literacy levels, and 46 million scored "below basic" in a separate "quantitative literacy" category--a measure of the ability to use numbers embedded in printed materials to perform tasks, such as balancing a checkbook or figuring out a tip (Kutner et al. …

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