Illiteracy: Meaning, Causes, Effects, Consequences and Solutions

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Illiteracy: Meaning, Causes, Effects, Consequences, and Solutions

What is the meaning of illiteracy?

Illiteracy is a state whereby one is unable to read and write. In its simplest form, it can be defined as lack of any or sufficient education.

Sometimes people who have had very basic education also experience challenges in reading and writing.

Illiteracy can also mean ignorance or the lack of knowledge in a specific subject. For example, a person may have gone to school but does not know how to operate a computer. Such an individual has no literacy in computer and is known as computer illiterate. Nearly every job advertised requires one to have computer literacy due to the digitization of most processes at the workplace.

A mistake in reading or writing that is seen to be characteristic of an illiterate person is also referred to as illiteracy. For this definition, a speech or letter that has several errors can be said to be full of illiteracies.

Functional illiteracy, on the other hand, is used to describe a situation where a person has writing and reading skills considered inadequate to perform employment duties that demand reading and writing skills that go beyond the basic level.

The challenges of illiteracy cut across:
*Geographical location

What are the causes of illiteracy?

There are so many reasons why an individual can be illiterate. These are some of the causes of the inability to read or write:

1. Illiteracy among parents: Many illiterate parents do not put much emphasis on the importance of education. Several of those born to parents who can neither read nor write end up being illiterate. This is especially true in remote areas where many people in the older generation have not gone through formal education. The reverse is true for those who have been brought up by parents with an elaborate educational background. They realize the necessity of taking their children to school and therefore ensure that they receive a good education.

2. Lack of family support: This can be the cause of illiteracy more so where a child has difficulty reading or writing because of dyslexia. In a situation where the family does not understand the child’s condition, it may simply be assumed that he or she is not a bright person and maybe school is not meant for everyone. Supportive family members help a child overcome reading disability and go through formal education with minimal challenges.

3. Unemployment of the educated: Some people believe that the only reason someone should go to school is so that he or she can get a good job and make a good life. Without the promise of employment, education is not a necessity to them. In a country where many of the educated are unemployed, there may not be enough motivation for the illiterate to go to school. After all, they reckon, why would you spend so much money paying for your education when there is no promise of a return on investment? In countries where those who have gone to school have good jobs and reasonable incomes, there may be sufficient motivating factors for people to get rid of illiteracy.

4. Lack of awareness: In places where several members of the local population do not understand why it is important for them to go to school, the level of illiteracy may be high. Disinterest in the benefits of formal learning can also be caused by lack of awareness on the importance of going to school. The number of illiterate people in urban areas tends to be lower than that of those in rural areas. People in towns are more aware of the need to eliminate illiteracy, the challenges that arise from lack of education and the social benefits of being literate compared to those who live in the remote place.

5. Social barriers: Many social barriers such as restrictions on girls’ education in some societies lead to illiteracy among the affected segment of the population. Education of the girl child has been an issue in some parts of the world leading to the formation of different organizations focused on championing the education of women. Forcing children into marriage is another social issue that causes illiteracy in the community. Family or social norms where female education is not allowed also causes illiteracy. In societies where the caste system is still in force, those who fall into the wrong caste may not get the opportunity to go to school. They are condemned at birth to remain illiterate.

6. Lack of affordable education facilities: Those who live in very remote areas with few or no education facilities may remain illiterate. The nearest school might be found several miles away. Instead of going through the tiresome process of walking for long distances on a daily basis just to go to school, many choose to stay at home. Lack of access to education facilities in rural areas has contributed a lot to the high number of illiterate people in these places.

7. Poverty: Poor parents with low incomes find it difficult to pay school fees. They are forced to choose between providing basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing and taking their children to school. In countries where basic education is not free, the number of children who do not go to school tends to be higher compared to places where basic education is free and mandatory.

What are the consequences and effects of illiteracy?

What are the consequences of Illiteracy? How does illiteracy affect the life of an individual and the society? These are some of the effects and consequences of the inability to read and write:

1. Hinders economic and social progress: Illiteracy greatly inhibits the economic and social progress of an individual as well as that of the country. Education gives one the power to seek opportunities and pursue them. People who have gone to school or are well educated have the expertise and intelligence to make good investment decisions and drive the growth agenda of a nation. Illiteracy, therefore, hinders the development of the country.

2. Poverty: Illiteracy leads to poverty. Education equips one with the right skills and expertise for gainful employment. A person who has not gone to school and is unable to read and write may experience a hard time in finding a job especially in a world where the corporate environment is increasingly in demand for employees who are well-trained and can cope with an industry driven by technology. Without a reasonable source of income, taking care of the dependent family members may prove to be difficult.

3. Child marriage: This is also a problem that may come about due to illiteracy. Parents may fail to recognize the benefits of taking children to school to learn how to read and write. Instead, the girl child may be forced into early marriage. It may also be a means of raising money through dowry payments to support the rest of the family members. In a way, the girl child is viewed as a property in some cultures. They can be traded to help the family make ends meet. The practice is especially rampant in areas where a lot of people have not gone to school.

4. Difficult life: An illiterate person can lead a difficult life in so many ways. The inability to find gainful employment can subject one to a life of poverty with poor living conditions. There can be a lack of basic necessities such as good shelter, clothing and decent meals. Illiteracy can also make one a societal misfit more so in areas where many people have gone to school and have the ability to read and write. Such a person can be the center of ridicule and suffer from stress and low self-esteem. Without the ability to read and write, it can be hard to read instructions which in some cases may have dire consequences. They say ignorance is bliss but that is not true when a person’s life is on the line.

5. Social crimes: Through education, a person can cultivate some civic sense and develop behavior patterns that are socially acceptable. Illiterate people may engage in unlawful acts in the society due to lack of employment or simply as a result of being uncultured. In countries where the number of those who have not gone to school is high, social crime levels also tend to be high.

6. Underpayment, Underemployment, Unemployment: We live in a world where the job market favors people who are properly educated with useful skills to drive company growth. Many illiterate people are thus underpaid, underemployed or unemployed. They are unable to earn income and in many cases perform a lot of duties with little pay.

7. Intergenerational Illiteracy: The issue of illiteracy can cut across generations within a family. It can become cyclic in such a way that even the third or fourth generation family members suffer the same fate. Intergenerational Illiteracy mainly comes about because education is given little to no value in the family setup. The children that come along will thus see illiteracy as the norm and not make any effort to learn how to read and write.

What are the possible solutions to stop or control illiteracy?

1. Free education: The provision of free education in schools, colleges, and universities by the government can play a major role in reducing the level of illiteracy in a country by getting more people to school. Since some people fail to attend school due to lack of money to pay for the fees, offering free education can increase the number of people attending school and subsequently reduce illiteracy levels within a society.

2. Awareness: Creating awareness about the importance of education can help people understand why they need to go to school. Non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and other concerned parties should put in place deliberate measures to create awareness in the society and reduce the number of people who are unable to read and write.

3. Grants: Offering grants, subsidies, and scholarships can reduce the financial burden that parents and students bear in paying for education. It would make it possible for students to learn without interrupting their education due to lack of school fees. Parents would also channel the money that would have been used to pay for school fees towards other income generating projects. The cost of financing education can prove to be too high especially for those who live in poverty.

4. Late night classes: Working people can opt for late night classes. In this way, they can learn even as they earn income through their daytime jobs.

5. Free books: The government and different foundations can offer free books in schools to encourage students to develop a reading culture. Offering free books can also reduce the financial burden placed on parents in the provision of textbooks.

6. Digitization: Since we live in the age of technology and information, creating digital platforms for reading and learning can help reduce illiteracy in the society. It can also help take care of the challenge of shortage of education facilities. Digital libraries can provide a good platform for those who live far away from urban centers to expand their knowledge base and become more informed.

7. Lower educational cost: Even though education has its rewards, it is very costly to finance. Many graduates usually leave school with huge debts in the form of student loans. It makes saving and investing difficult. The cost of university education has been a key political and social issue in many nations. By lowering the cost of education, the government can make it easier for people to study up to the highest level possible.


The value of education cannot be underestimated. Many people like to think of it merely as a process to gain skills and expertise necessary for the job market. Even though education gives an individual a competitive advantage in the job market, that is not all that it does. Going to schools plays a major role in the mental as well as social development of a person. The lessons learned and the experiences that a person goes through while in school prepares him or her for life in the society. One can learn problem-solving skills and develop social intelligence necessary to overcome everyday life challenges. Illiteracy, therefore, has no room in the modern society. The more the number of people who have gone to school, the better the community. Everyone should aspire to be educated and gain knowledge because of the important benefits of being literate.

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