Why Does Adult Education Matter?

Posted by on February 16th, 2016

Literacy should not be taken for granted. Although literate people sometimes assume that the same basic knowledge and skills are acquired by almost everyone, there is a considerable number of Americans who have low literacy and numeracy skills. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States has a larger population of low-skilled adults than most developed countries.

 Literacy Rates

Amidst the promise of opportunities in the United States, a lot of Americans are actually unqualified to take on these opportunities and even less so, to compete on a global level. One in six adults has low literacy skills and one in three has low numeracy skills.

Aside from these, results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies in 2012 of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showed that both average literacy scores and average numeracy scores for the United States are lower than the international average. These rates cannot be dismissed to a bad few years – because it has been this way for the past 20 years.


Effects of Low Literacy

Low literacy levels can have a huge impact on the economy and is closely related to poverty rates – 43% of adults at the lowest literacy levels live in poverty. Those who have inadequate skills for job opportunities usually live in poverty which they often pass on to their children because they will be poorly educated as well. What results is a cycle of low literacy and poverty.

This is a huge contrast to those with higher education and who have adequate skills – access to better paying jobs, better education for their children, and opportunities to make valuable contributions to the community.


Adult Education As a Solution

While addressing the problem of low literacy by providing children better access to quality education is a good measure, a solution has to be provided to address low literacy among adults as well. There is no time limit when it comes to education and acquiring the skills necessary to get and keep better jobs. Literacy has long-term effects in terms of earnings and quality of life and these effects apply to those who take steps to improve their literacy even in adulthood.

Adult education programs can effectively address the literacy problem among those who have not learned how to read, write, or do math. According to the research by Stephen Reder, PhD at Portland State University, “Individuals who participated in adult basic skills (ABS) programs have higher future earnings – the more intensive the participation, the larger the income potential.”


The effect of improving literacy among adults is not limited to higher future individual earnings; the effects are far-reaching and significant on the community and the nation as a whole. Better educated adults raise better educated children and if this is applied across the population of adults in the low literacy levels, it will also lower poverty and crime rates – resulting in a better future for our nation.



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