Illiteracy is an enormous burden for countries of the world

Illiteracy is an enormous burden burden and costs countries significantly. A population’s lack of literacy and basic maths skills impact the ability of companies to compete efficiently at a global level. They are also unable to effectively harness advanced technology that will help further improve productivity and efficiencies because of a dearth of basic skills. Illiteracy also contributes to poor wages and unemployment, which effects citizens’ ability to accumulate wealth to help grow an economy. People with poor literacy and basic maths skills are, therefore, extremely dependent upon government welfare programmes which in a country such as South Africa with limited resources and high unemployment, is a significant burden. Illiteracy also manifests in various social ills, such as crime, poor health and underage pregnancies.

These are among the reasons responsible companies continue to invest in quality adult basic education and training or “ABET” from the country’s foremost accredited training provider, Triple E Training. Their investment into the accredited training provider’s adult basic education and training or “ABET” is enabling them to improve productivity and efficiency to grow the South African economy and create jobs. This is in addition to the role that adult literacy training and adult numeracy training play in improving society at large by equipping people with the English literacy and basic maths skills that they need to function in just about every facet of life.

The impact of illiteracy on any country’s economy is significant. The world economy incurs a cost of more than USD1-trillion every year because one in every five people cannot read or do not have sufficient basic numbers skills. This means that throughout the world 796-million people cannot read and write in a language, such as English. They are also unable to do simple calculations because they do not possess basic numbers skills, an often overlooked facet of literacy. Meanwhile, about 67-million people do not have access to primary education that will equip them with foundational skills, such as English literacy and numeracy, and 72-million global citizens miss out on a secondary education.

THE COST OF ILLITERACY IN EMERGING COUNTRIES

CountryGDP (US$ billions current prices)Cost of illiteracy (US$ billions)
Argentina563,1386,757 656
Brazil1,903 9322,847 208
Chile250,4723,005 664
China11,211 93134,543 136
Colombia332,3843,988 608
Egypt286,4353,43 722
India2, 308 0227,696 216
Indonesia895,67710,748 124
Iran393,4954,72 194
Lebanon54, 6710,656 052
Malaysia327,893,93 468
Mexico1,231,9814,783 784
Morocco102,0441,224 528
Nigeria515,4316,185 172
Pakistan250,1363,001 632
Peru190,2682,283 216
Philippines308,0333,696 396
Russia1,176,0014,111 952
South Africa323,8093,885 708
[Source:] World Literacy Foundation

THE COST OF ILLITERACY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

CountryGDP (US$ billions current prices)Cost of illiteracy (US$ billions)
Afghanistan21,5260,10 763
Angola106,1490,530 745
Bangladesh205,3271,026 635
Burkina Faso11,3230,056 615
Cambodia17,8140,08 907
Chad12,0160,06 008
Eritrea4,2530.021265
Ethiopia57,5570,287 785
Gambia0,7810,003 905
Guinea-Bissau0,9820,00 491
Haiti9,1520,04 576
Laos12,7640,06 382
Liberia2,0560,01 028
Mozambique16,9210,084 605
Myanmar69,1430,345 715
Nepal21,6880,10 844
Niger7.270,03 635
Rwanda8,7630,043 815
Sudan76,2040,38 102
Uganda26, 8140,13 407
Tanzania738,4693,692 345
[Source:] World Literacy Foundation

THE COST OF ILLITERACY IN DEVELOPED NATIONS

CountryGDP (US$ billions current prices)Cost of illiteracy (US$ billions)
Australia1,252,2725,05
Austria380,5557,61
Belgium463,7999,28
Canada1,615,4732,31
Czech Republic180,7893,62
Denmark297,3595,95
Estonia23,1130,46
Finland235,2764,71
France2,469,5349,39
Germany3,413,4868,27
Greece207,1484,14
Hong Kong310,0746,20
Hungary126,6912,53
Iceland17,8070,36
Ireland220,0114,40
Israel306,8736,14
Italy1,842,8436,86
Japan4,210,3684,21
Luxembourg54,941,10
Netherlands749,36514,99
New Zealand191,733,83
Norway420,9588,42
Poland491,2399,82
Portugal201,0364,02
Singapore296,0575,92
Slovak Republic87,5281,75
Slovenia43,0210,86
South Korea1,435,0828,70
Spain1,230,2124,60
Sweden487,3969,75
[Source:] World Literacy Foundation

Lack of literacy and basic numbers skills hinders economic growth

According to experts, South Africa’s gross-domestic product(GDP) would be between 23% and 30% higher than it currently isif the country had a more typical level of school performance. This is according to microeconomic and macroeconomic data. The first way in which illiteracy impacts a country’s economy is through lost earnings and limited employability of people who do not have literacy and basic numbers skills. Illiterate people earn between 30% and 42% less than those people who have literacy and basic numbers skills. They also do not have the capacity that they need to learn further in the workplace so that they can improve their earning potential by adding additional value to companies.

At least one study has demonstrated that the income of low skilled employees stays about the same throughout their working life because of limited prospects for growth and development. This is compared to employees with sound literacy and basic numbers skills whose incomes increase at least two to three times from what they were earning when they started their careers. People who do not possess literacy and basic numbers skills, therefore, become poorer considering increasing costs of living. Meanwhile, young adults who do not have literacy and basic maths skills are less likely to secure employment that will help them to avoid a life of poverty. This is especially the case at a time when the world economy is becoming increasingly reliant on sophisticated skills as it transitions into a new digital era. English literacy and basic numbers skills are the absolute minimum proficiencies that companies need to compete at a global level.

Worryingly, South Africa’s unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 34,9% in the third quarter of 2021. This is opposed to 34,4% in the previous quarter. This means that 7,8-million South Africans do not have a means of earning a livelihood. Among those most effected are indigenous South African women. They make up 41% of the total number of South African citizens who are unemployed. Notably, illiteracy is especially high among women in outlying rural and poor areas of the country. Their lack of English literacy and basic maths skills makes them extremely vulnerable and hinders them from achieving their full potential. It is well known that countries that empower their women have healthy economies. Meanwhile, young adults aged between 15 and 24 and 25 and 34 make up the largest group of unemployed South Africans. South Africans aged between 15 and 24 make up 64,4% of all unemployed citizens and those of between the ages of 25 and 34 years 42,9% of all those individuals who do not have a job.

JOB LOSSES VARIOUS SOUTH AFRICAN INDUSTRIES IN THE THIRD QUARTER OF 2021

• Finance industry lost 278,000 jobs.
• Community, social services lost 166,000 jobs.
• Manufacturing lost 83,000 jobs.
• Construction added 143,000 jobs.
• Agriculture added 69,000 jobs

Lack of English literacy and basic numbers skills felt in the workplace

Certainly, the lack of foundational English literacy and numeracy skills also restricts companies’ ability to upskill their employees to improve their competitive edge. Low skilled employees who do not have English literacy and basic maths skills will not be able to grasp content presented in workplace training programmes. Forward-thinking companies will, therefore, also enrol low skilled employees for foundational learning competence or “FLC” programmes before they commence occupational training at a National Skills Framework Level 2 through to 4.

This is to equip them with the English literacy and basic maths skills that they need to grasp the content presented in the theoretical component of their training. Bear in mind that this content is usually very technical in nature, with many employees’ English literacy and numeracy skills not up to standard. This is despite them being very proficient in their jobs. Foundational learning competence or “FLC” training also enables employees to function optimally in the world of work as part of the practical workplace experience that they have to complete to qualify. Like adult basic education and training or “ABET”, foundational learning competence or “FLC” programmes are offered by leading accredited training providers, such as Triple E Training.

Literacy and numeracy skills for quality workmanship and customer satisfaction

Poor literacy and basic numbers skills also impact companies’ productivity and, ultimately, profitability. This is as a result of having to redo incorrect orders or processing refunds. Inefficient communication can also lead to missed deadlines and unsatisfied customers. Moreover, companies may incur costs in finding adequately skilled staff and resolving problems and issues that arise from poor communication or misunderstandings in the workplace. This is the reason that enterprising companies continue to invest in quality adult literacy training and adult numeracy training from reputable accredited training providers, such as Triple E Training. Companies that invest in quality adult literacy training and adult numeracy training realise direct cost savings as a result of significant improvements in the performance of their employees.

Because their employees have foundational English literacy and maths skills, they also succeed in training that is geared at further improving their productivity, efficiency, accuracy and quality. Companies are also able to promote skilled employees internally as opposed to sourcing these proficiencies externally and then having to train new individuals to do their jobs. Bear in mind that there is usually a steep learning curve that new employees have to undergo before they have the necessary workplace experience to perform their jobs at optimal levels. This includes gaining an understanding of unique company procedures and nuances that are key to specific roles and that can only be acquired through experience working in a particular environment. Employees who have sound English literacy and numeracy skills are also able to better participate in teams and meetings, ensuring efficient communication. Another benefit of adult literacy training and adult numeracy training is that it improves the morale of employees.

They are also more engaged workers because they understand the company’s vision, mission and ethos; their role in making the business a success; and the implication of their actions on the organisation. There is also a respect for continuous learning among employees in companies that nurture a culture of skills development in the workplace. Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training also shows low skilled employees that they are valued and that their employers are just as invested in their success both inside and outside the world of work. This is considering the critical role that English literacy and numeracy play in all aspects of their lives, as well as the development of their families and communities outside of the workplace.

HELD BACK BY A LACK OF LITERACY AND NUMERACY SKILLS

English literacy and basic maths skills a first step towards digital literacy

Illiteracy and innumeracy also thwart companies’ ability to adopt new sophisticated digital technology that will provide them with a strategic competitive edge in the market. Employees in a modern economy are expected to be able to create, read and edit increasingly complex documents that are generated using various software programs. Previously, they would only have to use their English literacy and basic maths skills to read and write, as well as calculate numbers, and they would predominantly only peruse and analyse printed text.

Worryingly, school curricula in the country still do not integrate the broader definition of literacy and numeracy with technology. Yet, the vast majority of young South Africans read websites and blogs that they access on their mobile phones, smart tablets, note pads, laptops and personal computers. Many children also use electronic media to communicate with one another. However, this is only a starting point. They need strong literacy and numeracy skills to gain a sound ability to work with the advanced technologies that are being deployed in modern workplaces. A thorough grasp of English literacy and basic numbers skills is a step taken towards achieving digital literacy.

ENGLISH LITERACY AND NUMERACY FOR FINANCIAL LITERACY

English literacy and basic numbers skills help citizens accumulate wealth

Another way in which illiteracy impacts a country’s economy is through lost wealth accumulation for individuals who cannot read and write, as well as perform functions that involve basic numbers skills. People who lack English literacy and basic maths skills are unable to establish a personal financial plan or evaluate financial investments to better prepare themselves for retirement. They, therefore, become very reliant on social grants and government pensions. Research has shown that illiterate people are more likely to be on welfare or unemployment benefits than people who have sound literacy and basic maths skills. Meanwhile, high school dropouts are more than three times as likely to receive welfare than high school graduates. Low income earning potential due to a lack of literacy and basic numeracy skills also places a heavy burden on the social security system of a nation. At present, 18-million South Africans – 20% of all households in the country – rely on social grants. Yet, near to 28% of the country’s citizens live in abject poverty.

These welfare benefits have, thus, largely proved to be ineffective in a country where the unemployment rate is almost 40%. These social grants have also not kept pace with the rising costs of living, including the inflation of food, resulting in an increase in hunger and malnutrition in the country. Poor households spend 34% of their total income on food compared to the 10% spent by middle-class and affluent South African families. Poor households are, therefore, more susceptible to economic shocks. It is also highly unlikely that people with poor financial literacy skills will be able to start and operate a successful small business. This is despite the focus that the South African government has placed on developing young entrepreneurs and the “township economy” to counter high levels of unemployment. Obtaining sound financial literacy skills first relies upon an ability to read and write in a language, such as English, which is the official language of business and learning, and having a thorough grasp of basic maths.

THE VARIOUS LEVELS OF ADULT EDUCATION AND TRAINING OR “AET”

National Qualifications Framework or “NQF” Level 1General education and training or “GET”Adult education and training or “AET”
 Grade 9Adult education and training or “AET” Level 4
 Grade 7Adult education and training or “AET” Level 3
 Grade 5Adult education and training or “AET” Level 2
 Grade 3Adult education and training or “AET” Level 1

ABOUT FOUNDATIONAL LEARNING COMPETENCE OR “FLC”

While communication in adult education and training or “AET” and National Qualifications Framework or “NQF” Level 1 centres on learning how to read English, foundation communication focuses on using reading, writing and speaking skills to convey meaning in a logical and orderly manner. Learners who have completed foundational learning competence or “FLC” training will be able to extract relevant information from an English text, infer meaning, make deductions, develop logical arguments, organise thinking and extract key messages from an extended piece of writing. Foundational communication consists of:

  • Writing,
  • Speaking and listening,
  • Visual literacy,
  • Language structure and use,
  • Study skills, and
  • Workplace terminology.

Meanwhile, foundational mathematical literacy is minimum, generic numeracy. This basic maths curriculum is aimed at providing an adequate foundation to cope with the demands of occupational training. Employees who have completed foundational learning competence or “FLC” will, therefore, have an adequate foundation to cope with the maths demands of occupational training and to engage meaningfully in real-life situations that involve the use of basic numbers skills. Moreover, this instruction in basic maths provides the foundation for further development of an employee in numeracy concepts and those that may be specific to an occupation or trade. This instruction in basic numbers skills includes:

  • Number and quantity,
  • Finance,
  • Data and chance,
  • Measurement,
  • Space and shape,

Patterns and relationships.

LITERACY AND NUMERACY FOR A HEALTHY NATION

High correlation between literacy and numeracy skills and healthy and productive citizens

However, there are many other ways in which illiteracy drains the economy. For example, there is a direct correlation between literacy and health of individuals. For every rand that the South African government spent in 2014/2015, 11c went to the public healthcare system. Totalling R157-billion during this period, healthcare was the fourth-largest item spent by government. As much of 86% of this was spent by provincial government to manage the public healthcare system, consisting of 422 hospitals, as well as 3 871 clinics and health centres. The healthcare bill for provincial government was R150-billion during this period. This means that government spent R3 332 per person for the 45-million people who do not have medical cover. This burden is significantly exacerbated by the stubbornly high levels of illiteracy in the country.

People who do not have English literacy and basic numbers skills will struggle to access, understand and apply health-related information. This leads to poor personal health, hygiene and nutrition of a population. In turn, this results in a higher rate of disease, accidents and other health-related issues. In addition to a resulting increase in demand for medical services, poor health leads to job absenteeism which impacts the productivity of an economy. Illiteracy is also closely associated with high infant mortality. In a developing country, such as South Africa, a child born to a mother who has literacy and numeracy skills, is more likely to live past the age of five. Evidence has also shown that a lack of literacy and numeracy skills result in high-risk sexual behaviour.

This is because people who do not have literacy and numeracy skills are unable to access important information about sexual and reproductive health, as well as contraception. At least one study has demonstrated that women are three times more likely than those who are illiterate to know that a person in seemingly good health can be infected with HIV. Worryingly, South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world. HIV prevalence among the general population is high at 20,4%, with 7,7-million South Africans currently living with the disease. Prevalence is even higher among men who have sex with men, transgender women, sex workers and people who inject drugs.

LITERACY AND NUMERACY – ESSENTIAL LIFESKILLS

Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training breaks the back of illiteracy

Moreover, an unawareness of contraceptive methods increases the likelihood of unplanned and adolescent pregnancy. This is already a major concern in South Africa where teenage pregnancies have increased significantly especially during the pandemic when schools were shutdown for extended periods and rotational systems implemented to contain the spread of the virus. In Gauteng, alone, teenage pregnancies increased by 60% since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country. About 23 000 girls under the age of 18 gave birth between April 2020 and March 2021. This is compared to the 14 577 girls aged 19 and under who gave birth during the same period in 2019.

Worryingly, many of these girls will not be able to complete their basic education and acquire foundational literacy and numeracy skills because of the situation in which they have found themselves. This will fuel high illiteracy and innumeracy in the country. Meanwhile, children born into illiterate families also struggle to acquire literacy and basic numbers skills, and so the cycle of illiteracy continues. This is because illiterate parents tend to have lower expectations and aspirations in terms of education for themselves and their children. They do not value English literacy and basic maths skills because they do not fully understand how they are deployed to improve their circumstances. Moreover, poor families often prioritise work before education.

Children of parents who have not completed their basic education will do the same. In developing countries, children of a school-going age will be expected to also work or care for younger siblings as opposed to attending school – as is the case in many rural areas of South Africa. When parents are uninvolved in their children’s education, young learners are more likely to display behavioural problems; perform poorly at school, fail to attend their classes; have to repeat academic years; and dropout of their basic education. Illiterate parents also cannot read to their children and instil a passion for learning in the family. On the other hand, parents who have literacy and basic maths skills are able to help their children with homework; read notes and correspondence from teachers; understand the school system their children engage in; and guide and encourage them in their academics.

Children from the poorest homes are almost a year behind their middle-class counterparts by the time they start school. Meanwhile, children with parents who hold professional jobs have already heard more than 33-million words by the time that they start their learning journey. This is compared to the 10-million words that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds have heard by the time they start school. This has a significant negative impact on vocabulary growth and standardised test scores during a child’s early years.

LITERACY AND NUMERACY FOR SAFER WORKPLACES

Employees with English literacy and basic numbers skills respect safety

There is also a marked improvement in occupational health and safety in the workplace when employees have literacy and basic maths skills. This is because employees can understand occupational health and safety protocol. Employees who do not have English literacy and basic numbers skills place themselves and their co-workers at risk, which increases the need and cost of medical services. Injuries also lead to absenteeism and consequent declines in productivity of the economy. This is in addition to the high indirect costs associated with injuries and fatalities in the workplace that are uninsured and are, therefore, paid directly from the bottom line. These include inefficiencies due to decreased morale of workers and damaged reputations.

Certainly, the link between crime and illiteracy cannot be ignored. This is especially true in a country such as South Africa where crime is rampant. In many countries of the world, the majority of inmates have poor literacy and basic maths skills. Meanwhile, up to 85% of juvenile delinquents are functionally illiterate. In various countries, between 60% and 80% of prisoners’ literacy and basic maths skills are below standard. The cost involved includes maintaining prisons, administering courts and operating the justice system.

It costs the South African government R10 890 a month to maintain a single prisoner. This includes just more than R400 a month to feed inmates, while three-quarters of the cost of keeping a prisoner includes the salaries of warders and other correctional services staff. There were more than 140 000 inmates behind bars in the 2019/2020 financial year. It is anticipated that the number of prisoners will increase by 20% to 170 000 in the 2021/2022 financial year.

SOUTH AFRICA’S LEADING ACCREDITED TRAINING PROVIDER

Adult numeracy training and adult literacy training with a large impact

Accredited training provider, Triple E Training’s adult literacy training and adult numeracy training programmes are designed to equip low skilled employees with basic literacy and numeracy skills quickly and efficiently. The accredited training provider has remained industry’s preferred supplier of adult literacy training and adult numeracy training for more than 30 years. The company leverages a large national footprint, including skilled and experienced facilitators, to provide unrivalled adult literacy training and adult numeracy training at companies’ premises – whether at a construction site, farm or mine in the remotest of location.

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