The GED Statistical Report shows that 710,666 people tested and in the United States and territories, 498,000 people earned the GED diploma. With hundreds of thousands of people earning a GED diploma each year, why is it that there are even more people who are unsuccessful? In an attempt to answer this question, the study examined certain demographic variables related to GED graduates enrolled in classes in a community college in Southern California.
In a country that prides itself on being one of the most enlightened in the world, we have adults who fight the daily struggle of illiteracy lacking the skills needed to obtain jobs – to teach their children to manage money effectively to read notices of danger, in short, they lack skills to survive in our society. The illiterate adult lives in our society as an invisible minority. This invisible minority, suffering daily from illiteracy, represents at least 60 million individuals. Of the 60 million, 25 million read below a fifth-grade level, with only a few million not being able to read at all. Another 35 to 40 million read between the fifth and eighth-grade levels. These numbers do not refer to years completed in school, but to skill achieved. He also pointed out that of the 180 million adult population, it is not that one third are not able to read, it is that they read at levels that deny them access to basic forms of education and survival. Harman suggests that the figures are correct and incorrect at the same time. When collecting data, the terms literacy and illiteracy are widely used to define the statistics. Yet the definitions can differ significantly. For instance, if one uses a definition for literacy that appears to have been acceptable during the eighteenth century that is, the ability to sign one’s name illiteracy is negligible. If the ability to read The New York Times is the literacy criterion, even the high estimates are probably too low.
The attempt to define literacy is like a walk to the horizon: as one walks towards it, it continuously recedes. Similarly, as groups of people achieve skills formerly defined as literacy, altered circumstances often render definitions obsolete. New definitions replace the old ones as new goals are set. People considered literate by a previous yardstick are now regarded as illiterate. The definition of adult literacy has broadened over the last fifteen years. The definition reaches beyond the ability to read and write to a definition that includes an adult’s ability to function in a social context. The concept of literacy began to move from a definition of grade level achievement to one of the functional competencies that all adults should possess. The definition of illiteracy as the total lack of reading skills has broadened to a term called functional illiteracy. Functional literacy is defined as the ability to master basic skills well enough to meet individual goals and societal demands.