what do scholarly sources say about literacy?
Literacy skills are the foundation of all life endeavors, be they academic, work-related, or interpersonal. According to renowned Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, literacy humanizes people - it is what allows them to meaningfully engage with the world around them. More specifically, Freire worked with people living in poverty, people who either did not have access to an education, or who were failed by the educational system. Freire's work demonstrated how a meaningful education can break the cycle of poverty.
Today, in the United States, visionary ideas like Freire's are still relevant. Recent estimates indicate that 17% of US children (about 12.8 million) are growing up beneath the poverty line.
Children from low-income backgrounds run a likelier risk of falling behind in their literacy skills. Research supports that the earlier the intervention is conducted for low-income children, the more likely they are to acquire good literacy skills.
If a good education opens doors, then a poor education is a barrier. Without literacy skills, options are limited. Poor literacy is often linked to unemployment, poverty, and crime. Thus literacy skills not only improve the life of the individual, but society as a whole.
- Children from low-income backgrounds are more likely to need support in literacy development
Research from government and non-government sources make it plain: children from a low-income background are more likely to have difficulty acquiring literacy skills. Research also shows that children with such difficulty have a better chance of acquiring skills with intensive literacy training programs, ideally in pre-school or elementary school years. Children begin acquiring foundational literacy skills before they enter school. Because of unstable home lives and lack of material resources, children from low-income backgrounds are at a disadvantage before they even begin school.
- Family and Community Support are Vital Components for Literacy Development
The success of literacy programs hinges on the support they receive. Assessing the literacy skills and developmental needs of young children is a comprehensive task. Research indicates that broad-based support is fundamental. Specifically, studies show that children with family support are even more likely to succeed in developing strong literacy skills.
- Schools in Low-Income Areas Have High Rates of Turnover
Staff turnover is quite high in schools located in low-income areas. Lack of short-term and long-term stability in educational programming contributes to overall difficulty developing literacy skills. Comprehensive, community-based literacy programs help offset such problems. Ideally, these programs are integrated directly into the schools.
- Early Intervention Gets Better Results
Literacy programs can be found for all age groups. But children who are at-risk for falling behind have a better chance of closing the gap if their needs are identified and met early. The longer children from low-income backgrounds have to wait for such programming, the longer they are at a disadvantage. Literacy programming for pre-school and elementary school children helps provide the foundation that will carry them throughout their educational careers.
Research conclusively shows that children from low-income backgrounds typically do not have access to the same educational resources, support, and materials as children from more affluent areas. Literacy programs for young children from low-income families help them play a vital role in helping them succeed as students and beyond.
Adult Literacy Estimates
Midwest LINCS: Facts and Statistics
LinguaLinks - General Literacy Statistics
National Assessment of Adult Literacy
National Institute for Literacy - Facts and Statistics
UNESCO | Education - Literacy Statistics
UNESCO Institute for Statistics - United States
*** see the "bibliography" page for a comprehensive list of scholarly sources.