Illiteracy among disadvantaged people

Other Names:
Fourth World illiteracy
Illiteracy among the destitute
The illiterate in the Fourth World (disadvantaged minorities and destitute people in any country), find themselves in positions of inferiority in a number of everyday situations and are also confronted with the complexity of life in industrially developed countries. Being unable to read street signs, the names of underground stations, bus and tram destinations, it is very difficult to get around in a city. An illiterate is unable to compare labels in a store; cannot calculate the price of foodstuffs; cannot fill in application forms for jobs, for assistance, or for schooling for her children.
The predicament of illiterates in industrialized countries is undoubtedly more difficult than it is in the Third World, as an adult in an economically and technologically advanced country will suffer more from the isolation resultant from illiteracy than will someone similarly handicapped in a country where the adult illiteracy rate is high. In addition, many Third World countries have a rich community life and oral tradition which serve as a source of support for the illiterate person.

UNESCO statistics for 1980 revealed that 2.5% of the industrialized countries' populations (22.5 million people) admitted to being illiterate. In most countries, illiteracy rates for women were 2-3 times those for men, and illiterate persons are over-represented among the unemployed and among prisoners, the latter suffering extreme consequences of their illiteracy, as writing is an important means of communication with the outside world.

While it may be embarrassing for First World countries to admit a common problem with Third World nations, there must be political determination to solve the problem of Fourth World illiteracy. More effective identification of illiterates and their environment is necessary as well as a fuller understanding of the causes of different forms of illiteracy. Given the capital and technology available in all industrialized nations, it is a disgrace that millions of their inhabitants live in fear, shame and isolation caused by a problem for which there is a solution.
Broader Problems:
Disadvantaged groups
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
02.12.1999 – 00:00 CET