Photograph: Lies doch mal!
How does it feel to live in a society that provides the majority of its information in writing, when one is unable to understand this? Photograph from the thematic series Lies doch mal! (Go on, read!) by Katrin Lingen
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig


Everyone has the ability to read!

Literacy represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the twenty-first century.

United Nations Resolutions, 2001

We live in a world which is characterised by letters and characters. Whether it’s forms, letters, Internet sites, SMS, newspapers, books, timetables, operating instructions or street signs – orientation can be very difficult for anyone who can’t read. An estimated 759 million people worldwide, 16 per cent of adults, are illiterate. Germany and many other countries now have obligatory schooling. Reading, writing and arithmetic are taught as basic skills. However even here there are around 7.5 million people who are classified as functionally illiterate. While these people may have learnt reading and writing, their level of ability is so low that they can’t fully understand official correspondence, for example.

The requirements for written language skill have risen enormously in the last 100 years – too much too quickly for some people. Many of the requirements of present-day life and work are beyond them. Most of those affected feel ashamed and try to conceal their problem. But there is a remedy: the German Federal Association for Literacy and Basic Education draws attention to this problem with advertising campaigns and also offers assistance to the illiterate. With its easily comprehensible Apoll-Zeitung for the functionally illiterate, the German Adult Education Association offers current topics in concise, easy-to-read texts over two pages. And the United Nations brought the subject to wider public attention with a global literacy campaign which ran until 2012.