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OPINION Literacy has many challenges

by By Spencer Bailey | September 8, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Adult literacy is an issue that has existed around the world for centuries. With technological developments, social class divides, and covid-19, adult literacy is even harder to maintain. As International Literacy Day approaches, both hope and concerns have begun to arise.

As the covid-19 pandemic rages on, literacy has quietly become an even bigger issue. While disruptions to learning have exaggerated numbers in the past year and half, the virus did more damage to learning than previously thought. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), "The covid-19 crisis has disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults at an unprecedented scale. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionately affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults. Youth and adult literacy were absent in many initial national response plans, while numerous literacy programmes have been forced to halt their usual modes of operation."

Another big issue causing a further decrease in literacy is the digital divide, or the fact that access to technology differs throughout different economic classes. This divide was even more apparent when things like distance-learning, Zoom calls, and online school were an everyday thing.

While the aforementioned issues have made literacy seem like an impossible task to accomplish, there are battles being fought on the front lines both internationally and locally.

One of the major events on the forefront of battling illiteracy is International Literacy Day. Established in 1966, the holiday has spent decades bringing attention to the issue of adult literacy. When September 8 hits, people around the world will celebrate with events, reading programs, book drives and more.

Here in Siloam Springs, the movement works to solve literacy on a local level. The Dogwood Literacy Council, a literacy program downtown, has dedicated itself to "provide free instruction in speaking, reading, and writing English to adults who wish to learn English or improve their literacy skills." Their fearless leader, Charlie Muessemeyer, has poured years of expertise and training into her programs, with the hope of forming Siloam into a literate, strong community.

Siloam Springs has a low literacy level, and one that reflects the rest of the country. Studies have shown that 43 million Americans have only a third grade reading level, and that this costs the U.S. a little over $200 billion a year in health care costs that are linked to low adult literacy skills.

Being able to get everyone to a literacy level in which they can function effectively is a tricky task, but not one that's impossible. This International Literacy Day, make sure to have in mind the people like Muessemeyer, who are battling illiteracy on the front lines.

-- Spencer Bailey is a senior communication student at John Brown University. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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