Fixing the Child Illiteracy Crisis in America

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( — August 1, 2020) — Illiteracy is, of course, a problem within itself, but the issues that it can bring throughout someone’s lifetime are almost immeasurable. Child illiteracy can lead to feelings of shame which can lead to depression and a loss of a will to succeed. It is a compounding issue that can even branch generations, as children of adults with low literacy skills are 72% more likely to be at low reading levels in school. 

With COVID-19 causing classrooms to go online, youngsters face stiffer challenges in learning, especially those who are unable to navigate an online classroom on their own. If students start to slip, classroom behavior and participation can also become an issue, as it’s much easier to “hide” in a digital classroom. All things considered, it is as important as ever to actively work against child illiteracy in America, and here are some ways how. 

The Issues

There are 36 million adults in the United States without basic reading and writing skills. As mentioned before, the issue is generational, and fixing it does not just start with educating children better. Options for adult literacy classes are lacking, and even more so with closures due to stay at home orders issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

When it comes to children, 2 in 10 enter kindergarten behind where they “should” be, and most of them stay behind for the entirety of their education, which is often before high school graduation, and it is estimated that only about 12% of students who begin kindergarten behind will go to college. 

The deepest issue, as it is with so much in America, is the disproportion low-income families experience when it comes to access to programs created to better prepare children for kindergarten. Forty-three percent of Americans who live below the poverty line are considered to have low literacy rates and this can cause a lot of stress in a student’s life. With both locational access to resources, and a larger percentage of parents who simply aren’t capable of preparing their children for kindergarten, impoverished youth do not have nearly as fair a shot as their middle-and-upperclass counterparts when it comes to starting kindergarten at the recommended levels. 

The Solutions

There are many organizations that offer ways to get involved on the individual level, and most of what these organizations aim to accomplish is the same, as well as how they go about doing so. The most important fix is in educating those in the impoverished communities where illiteracy often becomes something passed down through generations. 

Funding is, of course, the first thing that needs to happen (so speak up!), but when it is available, programs like Reading Recovery and No Child Left Behind initiatives become more readily available. For adults, programs are generally more localized, but the national literacy directory can help navigate what is available for a given locale.  

Online situations offer both hurdles and catalysts, as some families do not have the means to access the internet, and thus students and adults alike cannot learn from the home. For those families that do have internet access, however, there are many online programs akin to those available in-person for students of all ages. 

The Future

The silver lining of illiteracy being somewhat of a generational issue is that it can, indeed, be stopped.  If unable to educate all of the adults due to funding, K-12 education can, at least, provide enough extra resources to ensure no children have to remain illiterate and fall into the near-endless list of issues that come with it. Many of them, including illiteracy, itself, can affect them for their entire lives.