International Literacy Day

The Importance of Literacy

By Peter Middleton, Functional Skills Reform Lead

Literacy has become essential in society, linking all aspects of our lives. It affects how effectively a person can engage socially within their community and impacts directly on their working life. Imagination can only take us so far; with the ability to read and understand words we gain exposure to a host of wonders, driving creativity, supporting logical thinking and providing the knowledge and confidence to succeed.

Today, 8 September is UNESCO’s International Literacy Day. Celebrated around the world annually since 1967, it’s aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.

Literacy spelt in wooden blocks

The benefits of reading

Reading focuses the mind, encourages concentration and enables us to relax. To sit still and take in what it is we are seeing. Children need to learn these skills. Helping them to understand the importance of directing their energy into just being opens their minds to opportunity.

This applies in some context to everything we read. Yes, there is tons that we dismiss, but so much of it stays with us. Enlightening our lives and making the journeys we take so much more interesting. People, places and the things we see and meet remain with us long after the event. The ability to read allows our memory to grow, expand and provides a library of information for us to return to time and again.

Fluent readers display greater knowledge of vocabulary and how things work. The more you read the more fluent you get. Reading with speed and accuracy is a powerful tool which links directly to effective communication.

Reading, encourages communication, aids expression and provides opportunity to learn. Equipping our learners with good literacy skills will enhance their lives, provide opportunities, instil ambition and encourage them into employment.  

Reading as well as giving the individual a wider vocabulary (see above) increases their spelling abilities.

The impact of literacy in life

Crucially, this all starts with parents. Children learn to talk by hearing words. The more they are spoken to and interacted with the more they understand. Their ability to respond through speech is developed through this time by their parents reading and talking to them. The important point here is talking to them – not at them. Conversation skills develop in childhood, supported and encouraged throughout their school years, helping them enjoy a fulfilling social life in the future.

The ability to communicate effectively links directly to good literacy. Reading to a young child in any situation, be it before bed, in the afternoon or while at the library, further establishes connection. Physically and mentally parent and child are together – engaged within the pages of whatever book they are reading. Rhyme and repetition bring laughter and fun – there is no better way to spend some time.

A skilled workforce for the country needs to be literate. Information and knowledge are essential to do well, create wealth and stability in life.

Literacy is so much more than simply words.

It is the cornerstone of a better society. It affects people and their lives directly. Opportunities for employment, yearly income and what sector they work in all rely heavily on knowledge, understanding, determination and skill. Social interaction and topical interests stem from reading and provide the confidence to engage in conversation with others.

In today’s world the ability to communicate well, both verbally and written has never been more important.  The ability to write concise emails, which are structured well, can make a person stand out – as well as save the reader time!

We often hear that knowledge is power.

Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and the 7th wealthiest man in the world credits many of his great money decisions to his voracious reading habit. He says he starts every morning by pouring over several newspapers and estimates he spends as much as 80 percent of his day reading. When asked once about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

The point is – dedicating time to read every day will have benefits in many areas of our lives.   

1 in 6 adults (7.1 million people) in England have very poor literacy skills.

Source: Literacy Trust

How do we support literacy development in our apprenticeships and traineeships?

English is a core component of our apprenticeship programmes.  It is a critical subject that reflects the needs of employers,  and means the learner will be able to follow their chosen career path through employment or pursuing studies.

English skills that are applied on apprenticeship programmes include reading reports, analysing and interpreting information, to submitting documents and writing emails. Learners who have a Grade C or a Grade 4 are exempt from English on their apprenticeship programme, however, they are stretched beyond the curriculum with higher level English material.

The development of English in the workplace cannot be underestimated and an apprenticeship programme gives people the opportunity to improve their skills.  

On our traineeship programmes (pre-apprentice courses for 16-24 year olds) learners’ study English as part of their Functional Skills. If they are exempt, they study a unit called “Literacy for the workplace” to meet the needs of the employer.

Functional Skills were revised in 2019, and prior to this a review was held with employers to establish what English skills they wanted new recruits to possess.  Below are some of the findings from the Pye Tait research project of English Skills which could be better developed:

  • Communicating confidently and clearly (written and oral).
  • Grammar.
  • Writing.
  • Spelling.
  • Punctuation.
  • Business vocabulary.

In summary, good English skills benefit the learner and the employer – vital if Britain is to prosper as a word-class, prosperous and stable economy.

How can you support literacy development?

The Literacy Trust has a wide range of resources to improve adult literacy, with support from one-to-one volunteers, free resources and links to courses, as well as support for parents and families – and resources for teachers and schools.

Read Easy offers the opportunity to volunteer and turn someone’s life around.

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