Professional / Education Essay


Adult illiteracy and how to overcome it.

Illiteracy continues to ensnare millions around the world in its grasp. Without the appropriate reading, writing and mathematics skills, finding your way around daily life can be extremely difficult. Illiteracy is one of the most disabling conditions especially in today’s digital age. Those with a poor literacy level may be unable to read signboards, health warnings, news articles, job offers, invoices and more. They could also be unable to count money, write a resume or pay the bills, to name a few. This greatly hinders their ability to make the most of every commodity we have today.

Fortunately, all is not lost for the adults who are illiterate. It is true that there are “golden years” in childhood where a person is most able to learn literacy skills. Even if that window of opportunity has passed, one can still improve their literacy skills as an adult, as long as they are willing to work on it.

Attend Adult Education Classes

Most counties have a literary council that may conduct adult education classes or knows a place that conducts them. Adults can also get in touch with the state education department to inquire about available public classes for adults.

Public education classes may not be as rare as they seem. Depending on the city, those without literacy skills are likely not alone. Studies have shown that one fifth of the United States population is still illiterate. It may seem to illiterate people that they are the only ones who cannot read and write, but in reality, they may actually know someone else who is also illiterate.

Go for Private Tutoring

Some adults may be embarrassed that they have poor literacy skills, and may be resistant to attending public classes in the presence of everyone else. In these cases, hiring a private tutor can be the safest way to ensure that the adult’s secret remains safe. Many private tutors are respectful of the student’s privacy, and for a one-on-one session, there will be nobody else around to witness it. Private tutors may be understandably more expensive than public classes, but the benefits of being literate are priceless.

Approach a Friend or Family Member

If the illiterate adult has a close friend or family member who is willing to teach them literacy skills, this can make for a meaningful bonding time between them. We do not need any certification to begin teaching our loved ones how to read. There are numerous resources available in videos and articles online that outline how one can begin to teach an adult to be literate. Just a quick Internet search away, we can find plenty of teaching guides, charts, flash cards and similar aids. Adults can be taught to read and write using computer programs for language learning such as Mavis Beacon Typing, accomplishing conventional literacy and digital literacy at the same time.

Additionally, if you are considering teaching your loved one how to read, the local library or literacy group can be a great asset in providing you with the appropriate teaching materials. They would probably also have connections to classes, teaching networks, storytelling sessions or other events to help you along your loved one’s journey.


It may be more difficult, but it is definitely possible for an adult to teach themselves how to read and write given the appropriate resources – people have done that in the past. If an adult can find their way onto the Internet, they could take a look at online resources designed to teach people to read. An alternative would be to visit the library and begin with browsing children’s books. Adults should not feel embarrassed to go to the children’s section, as it is common for parents and teachers to borrow children’s books. In this way, an illiterate adult can discreetly start learning the basics of reading, and from there progress to more advanced resources.

Start Early

Although we should definitely not neglect the current adult generation, focusing on the future adults-to-be is perhaps the best way to combat adult illiteracy once and for all. After all, if we concentrate all our efforts on educating the adults so much that we fail to start early with the little ones, the efforts would have been for nothing when the children grow up and continue the next generation of illiteracy.

Illiteracy can be countered when we give children an early start in honing their language and communication skills. Reading or talking to children, even newborns, can help to familiarize them with the intonations of language and make it easier for them to associate words with sounds later on. As babies grow into toddlers, we can read children’s picture books with them and expose them to basic sentence structures and rhyming words. Once they are able to talk, encouraging them to tell stories or describe their day can be a great way to get them to articulate their thoughts, paving the way towards expressing themselves in writing. It is also helpful if parents or caretakers get children to read signs, labels, notices, maps or the like, whenever they come across some in their daily lives. Lastly, children can be engaged in singing, acting or reading cultural and religious texts. Exposing young children to these aspects can go a long way in setting the foundation for them to develop their literacy abilities, making it easier for them to pick up reading, writing and new languages later on.

Additionally, it is important that children are given a holistic education which ensures they can adequately read and write past an elementary level. Although many children go to school in the United States, some remain functionally illiterate throughout their education and graduate with the literacy ability of an eleven-year-old. Apart from nurturing the literacy development of children at home, it is important for the education system to make sure that every child is equipped with the necessary literacy skills to excel in life.

Children with developmental or learning disabilities should not be left behind. A child with such a condition requires special learning accommodations and may not be able to learn the basics of reading, writing and mathematics on their own if they are thrown into a fast-paced world. Sometimes, the condition goes beneath the notice of parents, caretakers or teachers for years before it is identified, by the time which the child is way past the golden years of learning literacy skills. Left to fend for themselves at school, these children may feel ostracized and unsure of what is going on, graduating as functionally illiterate adults.

To prevent this from happening, it is important that those supervising children in early years carefully observe their developmental milestones to make sure that there are no underlying learning disabilities that could go unnoticed. The sooner a condition is identified, the better the family and school can prepare to accommodate the child’s special needs.


Although adult illiteracy cannot be solved overnight, taking the right steps to combat it today goes a long way in reducing the illiteracy rates in our future generations. The more we open avenues for education to everyoneAdult illiteracy and how to overcome it., the more people will be able to enjoy their lives with the basic knowledge we all should have.  

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