Ensuring a high level of reading literacy has become a priority of many governments around the world. However, what is often forgotten is that there is more than one type of illiteracy, and not all are addressed during formal education. Many of these can be just as debilitating as an inability to read, but go unnoticed because the wider community is unaware of their existence. A few, such as scientific and functional illiteracy, have even resulted in death for some unfortunate people. These are a global problem because adults generally express some degree of at least one. Work out how many you might have.
20 Agricultural Illiteracy: This is the ability to understand information regarding agriculture. For those who work as farmers, this is rarely a problem, but to a city-dweller, reading that “90% of farmland was lost due to drought” might not seem a serious problem due to an utter lack of understanding of how farming works. People who are agriculturally illiterate fail to understand how important agriculture is, how dependent we all are on it, and make statements like “lack of farmland never causes famines, it’s just farmers being unreasonable and complaining” or “if they can grow this food overseas, then we can grow it here just as easily.”
19 Computer Illiteracy: Computer illiteracy is a specific form of technological illiteracy. It is the lack of ability to use computers at a basic level, often despite being shown how to use them. Being unable to turn a computer on, thinking that a mouse needs to be fed, or trying to click by snapping one’s fingers are real examples of computer illiteracy. People who are computer illiterate, an increasingly disabling trait in modern society, say things like “I’ll ring you on your email number” and “I deleted the internet. How do I fix it?”
18 Critical Illiteracy: This form of illiteracy is where someone is able read text and to understand its overall meaning, but lacks the ability to think about it critically and consider the possibility of unreliable or biased information. Gullible people often have critical illiteracy. The statement “all people who were democratic in the nineteenth century are now dead, so democracy kills people!” is taken as fact, and the underlying political agenda or the actuality that the data does not support said agenda is missed. Critical illiteracy is taken advantage of by many forms of media to present opinions as fact.
17 Cultural Illiteracy: Everyone belongs to a culture of some sort. Cultural illiteracy is a lack of familiarity with one’s culture. This often becomes apparent when common sayings are misunderstood, or when references to folklore are completely missed. Although we are all culturally illiterate to many other cultures, those who are illiterate of their own culture lack a feeling of comfort when surrounded by what should be familiar memes. A British person thinking that “porky-pies” require pastry, an Australian thinking that “bogans” are from Bougainville, or a Chinese thinking that “Buddha jumps over the wall” actually involves Buddha are strong examples.
16 Ecological Illiteracy: No matter how far we try to remove ourselves from the natural world, we are still dependent on the Earth’s resources. Ensuring that environments are maintained in turn helps us maintain our own way of living. Ecological illiteracy is the inability to understand this, and the belief that we are not actually dependent on the Earth. People who feel this way are quick to damage the environment for pleasure, and make statements like “the Earth can support as many humans as we want; population control is unnecessary” and “recycling is a waste of time.”
15 Emotional Illiteracy: People who are emotionally illiterate are unable to properly understand the emotions of themselves and of others. They often do not realize when they are behaving erratically due to anger or stress, and thus are less likely to recognize and stop destructive behaviors. They are poor at interpreting the emotions of others and often attribute laughing or crying as deliberate attempts to annoy. These people often have trouble expressing themselves and seem to respond oddly or even inappropriately in some situations. A person who laughs hysterically when they hear a friend has died, despite feeling sad, may be emotionally illiterate.
14 Financial Illiteracy: People who feel overwhelmed when the topic of budgets comes up may suffer from some degree of financial illiteracy. These include people who spend money irresponsibly, such as using a week’s pay to buy a video game when bills are due, or not saving money for future hardships. Frighteningly, many adults when surveyed state that they are financially literate, yet are unable to solve simple finance problems, showing that many suffer from a false sense of security. Although the level varies between countries, between 30% and 50% of adults are financially illiterate, and is a strong predictor of future poverty.
13 Functional Illiteracy: Conservative estimates state that 20% of all adults are functionally illiterate. This means that they can read or hear words and understand their meanings, but cannot properly comprehend the meaning of a sentence as a whole, and are unaware that they lack this perception. At an extreme level, the words in “beware of the dog” are individually understood, but the meaning of required cautiousness is lost. At a more common level, a statement like “genetics is bad” shows that someone lacks a basic understanding of what genetics is yet thinks their knowledge comprehensive enough to make decisive statements.
12 Health Illiteracy: Health illiteracy is the inability to understand basic healthcare facts, causing an inability to make good health decisions. In developed countries about 10% of adults have health illiteracy. These people are eager to believe audacious health claims, despite a massive amount of evidence to the contrary, and will undergo dramatic and often dangerous lifestyle changes as a result. Unfortunately this often affects their trusting children. Beliefs such as “doctors are paid by corporations to kill patients,” “immunizations do more harm than good,” and “vegan diets are healthy for newborns” have lead and continue to cause poor health and even death.
11 Information Illiteracy: Information illiteracy is the inability to realize when one’s own knowledge or understanding has reached its limit. The information illiterate is the person who argues despite having been proven wrong, or the person who does not realize they are making a fool of themselves when speaking to a room of experts about a topic they themselves know little about. Information illiterate people are unable to see their own intellectual faults. It has been said that a truly educated person is aware of the limits of their knowledge, and, sadly, over 60% of adults have some degree of information illiteracy.
Next week, the Top Ten.