Sunday is International Literacy Day. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has chosen “Literacies for the 21st Century” as the theme for 2013 because as technology continues to evolve it adds new dimensions to basic reading, writing, and counting. We see the evidence of these new literacies around us daily. Having a literate society in the 21st century is more important than ever with the ease of accessibility to many forms of electronic media. The ability to share effectively using these technical forms of communication and the ability to understand what is being communicated is extremely important, whether it is on the job or for personal use.
While Sunday is a day to make us aware of the need to bring literacy to people in other countries, literacy is also an issue in Kentucky, according to information that can be found on the Kentucky Adult Education web site. To make this issue more relevant, in Bell County 5,363 (thirty per cent) and in Harlan County 4,910 (26 per cent) of the residents ages 18-64 (work-age) are without a high school credential, according to the most current American Community Survey (2006-2010).
What can we do to help these residents and to reduce this statistic? Most of us are not educators or reading specialists. The answer is as easy as one-two-three. One: Start with a child in your family. Read to a child from infancy through grade school. You have seen the posters throughout the area encouraging adults to read to a child 20 minutes a day. Be the model of a reader, children imitate what they see. Your good literacy habits will be an important example for the children in your life. As they expand their vocabulary, they can read to you. Make it a special occasion to get a library card. Then set a time each week or every two weeks to check-out books from the library. To develop good writing habits, they can keep track of what they have read by writing about the book on index cards or in a notebook. Something as simple as keeping track of author and title, and saying what they liked about the book is all it will take. Maybe it is a comment about a character, the setting, or the ending.
Two: Be encouraging and supportive of older children in middle school and high school to continue being readers and writers. As the children become mature readers, become more sophisticated in your dialogue about their reading. At this age, they may be more interested in e-readers and writing using electronic devices. Continue discussing their reading—even if it is surfing the Internet. Do they understand the information they are finding? Do they know how to assess if the site is reputable? In turn, discuss your reading material as well. (Your children’s teachers will thank you for this added attention to literacy). You are laying the groundwork for your teenager to successfully graduate with a high school credential.
Three: Adults in your life who are without a high school credential need your encouragement and support more than anyone. They may be embarrassed because they lack skills to communicate in today’s world. They may desire to improve their literacy skills but do not know where to start. Take them to a GED class to sign-up. Once they have enrolled in class, have them tell you what they are learning. Celebrate each milestone until the GED is awarded. Then channel that support to encourage them to further their education or gain employment.
Whether it is internationally or locally, literacy is a win-win. For the individual, it is liberating to accomplish the simplest daily tasks that most of us take for granted: shopping for groceries, clothes, following medical instructions, making independent decisions about political issues, becoming more employable. The Kentucky Office of Employment and Training estimates that by 2018, some form of postsecondary education will be required for 29 percent of all jobs and 48 percent of new jobs in Kentucky.
For the community, a literate population means an increase in the income-base, a rise in the integrity of the community, an improvement in our schools, and a more attractive area for future employers who might want to locate their businesses in Bell and Harlan Counties.
Please use International Literacy Day as the starting point to increase literacy and improve the graduation rate.