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Adult Literacy and the Pandemic

by system
Tue, Apr 28th 2020 11:00 am

A guest post from Tara Schafer, Executive Director, Literacy Buffalo/Niagara

Our current situation is shining a spotlight on what works-and what doesn't work-in our society. Existing, entrenched educational disparities are being seen, maybe for the first time ever.

For too long, we have minimized the challenges that lower income children and their families face. With school out for a month now, we see middle class children keeping up and lower income children falling behind. The leading causes for this are the digital divide and lack of support from parents and family. This lack of support is often caused by parents working around the clock to put food on the table-they just do not have time to be their children's teachers.

Lack of literacy and language skills is another main reason. 30% of adults in the City of Buffalo are functionally illiterate, meaning they read below a 5th grade level. Many parents are nonnative English speakers.

How can these parents help their children when they themselves have low literacy-or are just learning to speak, read and write in English?

Adult Literacy is a big issue but no one is talking about it. Yet without better adult/parental literacy, we are relegating tens of thousands of children to lives where they will likely never attain success. Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves. These children are more likely to get poor grades, display behavioral problems, have high absentee rates, repeat school years, or drop out. Through no fault of their own, these kids are doomed from the start.

And it gets worse: low literacy and poverty go hand in hand. 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings.

Right now, both adults and children are suffering the impact of low adult literacy. They always have but it is no longer easy to ignore.

Improving literacy for adults is critical. It will positively impact so much, most importantly the lives of their children and in turn potentially transforming communities.

The region's largest school district-Buffalo-has 34,000 students, 83% of whom are considered economically disadvantaged. Prior to shut down, only 34% of Buffalo students were proficient in reading and math, meaning that 2/3 of students are not meeting important educational benchmarks. These children are at tremendous risk which is seriously exacerbated by the low level of adult/parental literacy in Buffalo. We can change that-helping parents helps the students.

But less than 10% of adults who need literacy help are able to access it right now due to lack of funding for adult literacy programs. This can serve as a turning point for us all. We can decide to prioritize adult literacy as a means of strengthening families and improving the lives and futures of our children. Our actions now can change the trajectory of our region for generations to come. Each and every one of us can play a part-please contact me at tara.schafer@literacybuffalo.org if you want to help.
For readers outside of the Buffalo region, contact Kathy Houghton, Executive Director, Literacy New York, at khoughton@literacynewyork.org, and we can connect you with an adult literacy program near you.

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