What would a more literate world look like

What would a more literate world look like

Here in Australia we know that functional illiteracy has a big impact on lots of Australians. To be functionally literate you need to be able to read and understand the things that get you through everyday life, including being able to understand this article.

Functional illiteracy is strongly linked to some of our big problems in health, employment and welfare dependency. The current discussion about endemic illiteracy in Tasmania also highlights these concerns.

But while there are problems, globally we compare well.

The results from the recently released Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) sees Australia coming fourth among OECD countries – following Japan, Finland and the Netherlands for literacy – performing well-above the OECD average. Younger Australians (16-24 years) not only scored well above the OECD average in literacy, but were significantly higher than older Australians.

What would a more literate world look like

The number one thing to notice is the shift towards greater economic prosperity. There would be lower unemployment rates, higher salaries and greater career flexibility. These would work together to create an innovative, self-directed and highly motivated workforce that is adaptable and highly-skilled. Higher levels of professional development and continuing learning would also result.

At the moment, illiterate people earn, on average, between 30%-42% less than their literate counterparts around the world and are more likely to depend on welfare or unemployment payments to make ends meet.

Increasing literacy rates leads to increased productivity and efficiency for small businesses, along with reduced rates of employee absenteeism.

Health outcomes would also improve as a result of full literacy and economic prosperity, with better food and diet awareness, family planning and preventative lifestyle choices.

For example, poor health literacy is linked to higher death rates from heart disease. Those who are unable to properly read and understand preventative and treatment medications and instructions are at significant risk of failing to care for themselves properly. Similarly, low literacy levels impact on diabetes prevention and care. And literate women are three times more likely than illiterate ones to know that a person in seemingly good health can be infected with HIV.

The huge disparities between high and low socioeconomic health outcomes would be largely removed by improving literacy rates. Child mortality rates would decline and life expectancies would increase.

Participation in the political process would also be boosted significantly, along with a better informed citizenry. Communities would thrive as community participation and investment grows. Tolerance and compassion would increase.

We also know there are strong links between literacy and crime. For example, prisoners who are still illiterate upon release are more likely to re-offend. In our more literate world, violence and crime would decrease.

Large-scale issues, such as famine, war and climate change, would also be able to be more effectively tackled by a much larger group of committed people around the world. The levels of ignorance, misinformation and political spin would be countered by an informed and critical global population.

The focus would shift to social equality, environmental sustainability and energy renewal, population dynamics and water conservation. Women and girls would be given equal opportunities, while indigenous, migrant and refugee populations would be afforded more equitable social and economic outcomes.