Functional illiteracy means a person can only read and write in basic forms; their abilities aren’t at the level required in the workplace or for societal activities.
In contrast, a functionally literate person as defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is one who can “engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development”.1
Sometimes, functionally illiterate people have had adequate schooling, but they don’t comprehend language or have elementary-level reading skills necessary for effective communication. It is important to note that these inabilities are not necessarily due to cognitive, sensory, neurological or mental disorders.
In developing countries, this functional illiteracy is often due to limited schooling. In many cases, children are called upon to work at an early age or gather water from a source far from home. This limits the consistency of education or, in some cases, completely prevents it.
The level of illiteracy that is required to qualify as functionally illiterate varies between cultures. For example, a woman in rural Asia may be able to go through her daily life with fewer reading skills than a person living in an urban setting or a culture values technology. However, in a general sense, functionally illiterate people are often unable to operate a computer, fill out a job application, or complete tax forms or other paperwork.
How is functional illiteracy determined?
It is different in every culture, but the National Center for Education Statistics uses the following parameters:2
- Prose Literacy
- Someone who is functionally literate can understand and use information and instructions presented in written text.
- Document Literacy
- A functionally literate person can fill out forms such as job applications, tax forms, medical forms, and so on.
- Quantitative Literacy
- A functionally literate person can do simple addition, figure out how much to tip and calculate other simple math problems.
Why is functional literacy important in developing countries?
At GFA World, we’ve seen firsthand how literacy can drastically impact entire communities. In Asia alone, more than 250 million women are illiterate, meaning they can’t read, write or perform basic math.
These women can’t read warning labels, contracts, employment applications, medical information and so on. They can’t read God’s Word or learn on their own. They are often cheated in the marketplace because they can’t do basic math. Through GFA World literacy program, women across South Asia can learn reading, writing and math skills.
A child’s education is also key to fighting illiteracy and functional illiteracy.
Many families are so poor that the only hope they have is to sacrifice the future education of their children in order to survive in the present. The longer a child stays in school, the more likely they will become functionally literate. Through GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program, children are encouraged to stay in school rather than join the workforce. Children in the program receive basic necessities such as academic help, school supplies, clean water, nutritious food, basic healthcare and more. These items ease financial pressure from families so the children can continue their education.
In parts of Asia, a literate person earns 23 percent more than an illiterate person, reports GFA World. “And in the female workforce, a woman with high literacy skills can earn 95 percent more than an illiterate woman or one who has low literacy skills.”3
Will you join us in this special mission to help adults and children increase their literacy? When education and literacy are prioritized, poverty diminishes. “Throughout the world, impoverished children face life without hope and without opportunity,” said K.P. Yohannan, founder and director of GFA World. “By the grace of God, we are able to help some of those precious children by providing them the means to a better life.”
Ask yourself, “What is my part in these global efforts of literacy?” Some people will be teachers, some will be advocates for their efforts, others will fund the programs. What is your part? Consider giving to GFA World’s literacy efforts. Undoubtedly, learning to read and write changes a person’s future!