Living with Illiteracy

What is it like to live with illiteracy?

Writing a check in the grocery store, helping your children homework or reading to them, writing a thank you note, understanding how to operate a computer or simply just reading a good book, these activities are second nature for many of us. About 10% of adults, approximately 30,000 people, in Prince William County find them difficult or impossible to do. 

Literacy is an evolving term and continuously redefines itself to meet our changing society. Simply put, it means to have the skills necessary to function effectively in many areas of our lives, including, but not limited to, problem solving and higher level reasoning skills. Literacy is a range of tools that help people help both themselves and their children. It is not an end in itself but a means to a better quality of life. (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).

Literacy Volunteers of America-Prince William (LVA-PW) is dedicated to helping those who seek any of these basic literacy skills. LVA-PW takes volunteers from the community and trains them to work with adults. Once trained, the new tutor will be matched with a student and they will meet for about 2 hours a week. The program is learner-based, which means that the tutor and student together build the curriculum around the needs of the student. If the student wants to work on a driver's license, then they start with the Drivers Manual. If the student wants to read the instructions from a doctor or on a medicine vial, then that is where they start. Many students also come into the program wanting to better their job skills by doing such things as getting a commercial license, or furthering their education by working towards their GED. The office contains computers and various programs for those students seeking to obtain computer skills and improve their use of computer technology. The only charge to our students is a $50 assessment fee.

Illiteracy affects adults from all walks of life. Every socio-economic, cultural and ethnic class is represented at LVA-PW. While many students are native English speakers, a growing number are designated as English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Some ESL students may have not had the opportunity to finish school in their native country. Many of them are literate and functioning in their native language but struggle with to functioning productively in this country until their English literacy skills improve.

Community Statistics

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, the current population of Prince William County (PWC) is approximately 364,200. We can be proud of the fact that 84.7% of adults 25 years and older living in Prince William County have a high school diploma or higher, and some 32.8% have a bachelor's degree or higher (the national average is 27%). But, there are some 15.3% (30,700) of the population 25 years and older (200,700) that have not earned even a high school diploma- 16,700 of which have less than a 9th grade education level, and 14,100 of whom have a 9-12 grade education with no diploma.

A 2004 survey also revealed that 17.6% (59,000) of PWC's population was foreign born (up from 6.2% from 1990). This data also reveals that 28.6% or some 87,500 of the population of PWC speaks a language other than English at home. This figure has risen significantly from 9% in 1990 and 16.3% in 2000. Moreover, according to the 2004 American Community Survey, 12.2% (37,300) of the population responded that they speak English less than "very well". This figure has more than tripled from 3.1% in 1990.

Furthermore, according to the 1992 National Adult and Literacy Survey 52,000 adults (at the time) in Prince William County were considered functionally illiterate. At the time, the population of PWC was 157,000 - now it is 364,200. There is a need for adult literacy services in PWC. The time to meet this challenge is now.