Global literacy is falling. What’s a communicator to do?
Read it and weep: After decades of reporting five levels of literacy, the largest adult literacy study in the world has dropped Level 5, the top level, for lack of participation.
The reason: Just 2% of adults worldwide performed at Level 5, so researchers combined it with Level 4 in their most recent report.
Welcome to the world of literacy today, according to the 2013 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC.
PIAAC is an enormous, every-10-year study of adult literacy, developed and organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The study seeks to determine how well adults are prepared to function in today’s society.
The answer, according to PIAAC: Not very well.
Most people can, say, pick out which candidate earned the fewest votes from a simple table identifying three candidates and the number of votes they received. But most struggle to identify the author of a book from when the answer appears on the second page of a library website’s search results.
World literacy 2013
14% of adults globally read at below-basic levels.
|Literacy level/score||Percentage of worldwide adults 16+||Skills||Sample task|
|Below level 1 (Nonliterate)|
|3%||Locate a single piece of information in familiar texts.||Review a simple table identifying three candidates and the number of votes they received to identify which candidate earned the fewest votes.|
|Level 1 (Below basic)|
|12%||Read relatively short digital, print or mixed copy to locate a single piece of information.||Review two paragraphs and a chart of generic medicine usage in 15 countries to count the number of countries in which the generic drug market accounts for 10% or more of drug sales.|
|Level 2 (Basic)|
|34%||Find information that may require low-level paraphrasing and drawing low-level conclusions.||Review a website with several links, including “contact us” and “FAQ” and identify the link leading to the organization’s phone number.|
|Level 3 (Intermediate)|
|39%||Identify, interpret or evaluate one or more pieces of information that require conclusions.||Click to the second page of search results from a library website to identify the author of a book called Ecomyth.|
|Level 4/5 (Proficient)|
|12%||4: Perform multiple-step operations to integrate, interpret or synthesize information from complex texts, which may require complex conclusions.|
5: Integrate information across multiple dense texts; construct syntheses, ideas or points of view; or evaluate evidence-based arguments.
|Review search results from a library website to identify a book suggesting that the claims made both for and against genetically modified foods are unreliable.|
How low can you go?
The results? Worldwide, adults weighed in at an average literacy rate of 273 out of 500 points. That puts them at level 2, or below basic, literacy skills.
On bottom of the world
Only seven countries, led by Japan,
achieve even basic average literacy rates
That means that, on average, these adults can look at a chart of generic drug use in 15 countries and count the number of countries in which the generic drug market accounts for 10% or more of drug sales.
But they struggle to review an organization’s website with several links, including “contact us,” and identify which link will lead to the organization’s phone number.
How can you reach readers in this environment?