A five-part definition of adult literacy reading, writing, and verbal communication in English, as well as ability in math and problem-solving skills, is accepted by policymakers and literacy providers. He further explains that this five-part definition is often referred to as the “basic skills” adults should master, adding that the term basic skills are used interchangeably with the term literacy. In defining functional illiteracy “If we accept that an ability to read the simplest instructions, large-print poison warnings, road signs, printed slogans and the menus in a fast-food restaurant is all it takes to function in our nation, then it is correct to estimate that 25 million people cannot make the grade.
Mrs. Barbara Bush, a literacy advocate, spoke of 60 million illiterate and functionally illiterate adults and Former Education Secretary Terrel Bell told Congress that 72 million adults function at a marginal level or below. The broader definition of functional illiteracy is preferred but strongly emphasizes the fact that 60 million is still too many in a free society.
We do not classify adults in terms of grade-level attainment because it does not adequately measure their ability and their problems. He is comfortable saying, though, that 50 to 60 million adults have serious literacy problems. Illiteracy, then, is not simply the inability to read and write, as it stretches beyond educational connotations and permeates every aspect of American life. Since literacy appears to be more in the nature of changing relationships than measurable quantities, it is unlikely that anyone will arrive at an acceptable level or criterion allowing one to accurately and usefully state the number of illiterates. It may be more useful to define functional literacy for individuals and specific communities at a particular time.
The statistics have accused America’s educational system, its political system and its social system of injustice and inequity. Attempts are being made to eradicate illiteracy with various programs, such as the GED. Historically, the GED program has been an important function of higher education since the end of World War II. The GED Examiner’s Manual reports that initially the GED Tests were administered to World War II veterans in an effort to help them pursue educational, vocational and personal goals. While the program was administered by the Veterans’ Testing Service from 1945 to 1963, it became apparent that civilians could also benefit from the program. During the 1950s, the American Council on Education began to address the need of civilians and now serves more than 700,000 GED candidates annually through 3,500 GED Testing Centers.