A global study has revealed that English teenagers are the most illiterate and the second most innumerate in the developed world. There have been calls for a change in attitude towards education to improve basic skills.

The Operation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has found in a study that English teens “had the lowest literacy rates and the second to lowest numeracy rates” out of 23 developed nations.

Someone who is a “functioning illiterate” has a basic education, but still falls short of a minimum standard of literacy or who’s reading and writing skills are considered insufficient for everyday needs.

The study also discovered that: “university teaching gives limited attention to low levels of literacy and numeracy”. Graduates with low basic skills gain modest returns from their qualifications and will often not be able to repay their student debts. The OECD described students with low literacy and numeracy levels as “undermining the currency” of UK degrees.

[su_spoiler title=”The cause of illiteracy may lie in the failings of UK schools” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]It seems likely the root cause of illiteracy amongst young people in the UK lies in our education system. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether the current educational reforms will (as the report suggests) improve conditions.

Requiring pupils to remain in full-time education until the age of 18 could indeed help those 16-19 year olds who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks, but I’m not sure how the changes being made to GCSEs, supposedly making them ‘harder’, are going to achieve the same. To give one example: under the new system, pupils will no longer have the option of sitting a ‘higher’ or ‘foundation’ tier paper for the majority of subjects, English included. Instead, everyone will sit the same exam. In an ideal world, this would be the best way of judging their abilities, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

How can pupils be expected to perform to their highest possible standard, to effectively demonstrate the best of their abilities, when they’re having to do so under conditions designed to accommodate an entire generation? There’s no ‘one size fits all’ model for education; the report clearly shows this, and it’s time the government got their heads around it too.
Meg Bradbury, News writer[/su_spoiler]

The National Literacy Trust state that “less that one per cent of adults in England would be described as completely illiterate, although this absolute definition is not often used”. The latest statistics in education show that “young people aged between 16 and 19 have been found to possess only a ‘basic’ grasp of maths and English, with nine million people of working age having low literacy or numeracy skills”.

Attempts to improve our education system are underway with the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, and children’s author and comedian, David Walliams, last year rallying leading publishers, schools and nurseries to join forces, in an attempt to counteract these statistics.

With links between illiteracy and criminality and low levels of employment, it comes as no surprise that this new target is incredibly important. When the Education Secretary spoke of the new drive to tackle illiteracy she said: “If a child fails to learn how to read, the consequences can be nothing short of devastating, holding them back for the rest of their lives”.

Rachael Jarman, second year History student at UEA described these statistics as unexpected. She stated that: ‘I find this so surprising as it seems people from all over the world come to the UK for education’.