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Functional Illiteracy: A Worrying Data

A recent estimate has shown that, in Italy, the number of functional illiterates between the ages of 16 and 65 is around 28%. This percentage indicates that almost one in three people is unable to understand a text of medium to high difficulty. This disorder arises as a difficulty in assimilating information that is presented to us during our daily lives. Consequently, actions such as reading a newspaper article represent a great obstacle for a large section of society. As a matter of fact, it is easy to understand how this data is worrying for the social and economic developments of Italy. Especially considering that the percentage rises dramatically (48%) when low-skill people are taken into consideration.


Surely this trend has been increased by the pandemic situation. Online lessons have decreased stimuli from the youngest who have been affected by studying within their own home. Although this factor was crucial, it cannot be an excuse. This framework represents the failure of the Italian education system. Even though the numbers clearly speak of most functional illiterates over 45, the school system is not working. ISTAT states that in Italy, the percentage of high school graduates is 62.9% against 79% of the European average, while the percentage of university graduates is 12% lower than the European average (20% against 32% in the EU). Within these statistical differences, even more, worrying territorial features emerge: the south of the country is less educated than the north, confirming the "Problem of the South", an issue that Italy is struggling with since its Unification. Precisely, in these areas there is a poor level of teaching, highlighting how 45% of schools provide insufficient performance based on student results. In this regard, the Italian state should invest to reduce this gap, ensuring equal opportunities for students throughout the national territory.


The percentage relating to ELET (Early Leavers from Education and Training) is directly proportional: in Italy, 13.1% of young people between 16 and 25 years drop out of school. The target of the Strategy of Europe 2020 aimed to stabilize the percentage at around 9%. We can see how, even in this case, the education system in Italy is not bringing the desired results, moving away from European standards.


Related to functional illiteracy, it is crucial to highlight another typical disorder of today: digital illiteracy. It results in the inability to use a computer or understand news online. This trend is particularly high in people over 29 years, OECD statistics say 17% of the entire population. Considering that this percentage of Italians carry out activities such as voting for a referendum or a political party, serious consequences arise. Digital illiteracy becomes an issue especially when it comes to fake news. The impossibility of developing an opinion based on concrete data facilitates the possibility of deviating information. A concrete example was the 2015 elections when the politician Matteo Salvini aimed his electoral campaign on "the migrant question". Social media were beset with fake news containing worrying data on the incidence of immigrants in Italy. The weaker minds were influenced by this news, leading the centre-right exponent to win.


Reflecting on the possible solutions to be implemented, as on many intrinsic issues of Dante's country, it is necessary to think of a long-range strategy. For people belonging to the age group that coincides with obtaining the diploma, young people must be motivated to continue their studies. Too often young people looking to the future feel limited by the few job opportunities. Therefore, they prefer to early enter the world of work rather than strengthen their skills by continuing their studies. In an industrial country like Italy, manpower is highly demanded, therefore, especially those who have undertaken a technical path during high school will apply in this sector.

The intention to motivate young people should be accompanied by a State project: proposing curricular internships during the academic career, and subsequently motivating companies to hire with contracts proportional to age and experience. In Italy, one in three recent graduates is unemployed. This indicates that academic efforts are not rewarded. It is also for this reason that 8% of the Italian population emigrate to other countries in search of job opportunities.

In addition to the lack of meritocracy, the economic difficulties lead young people to drop out of school. The desire to help the family and to be economically independent relies on the needs of young people to start working immediately, giving up, in most cases, more career opportunities stemming from attending a university.

Another initiative to combat functional illiteracy among the higher age groups is certainly to offer constant courses for workers. Economic and social progress must inevitably pass through professional updating; the variety of tasks that today's world of work requires a progressive commitment to enhancing one's skills and learning more. During the pandemic period we learned to follow webinars and online lessons, this solution can be adopted for workers and students who can acquire both IT and specific skills in their field of expertise.

As we have seen, there is inevitably a close correlation between education and the economy. If Italy was already sailing in stormy waters on both, the pandemic has aggravated the situation further. There is a need for institutions to focus on the importance of education, as there is a large percentage of young people influenced by social media, which has sharply become the most widely used source of information. The lack of regulation on social channels leads many people to rely on influential people by creating a mass identification based on personal thoughts.


In this context, the famous quote "ignorant people are easier to govern" perfectly fits. Unfortunately, this assertion is true. In Italy, the doubt arises that there is no desire to change the status quo in this field. As for education, no significant investments have been made in recent years and the impact of illiteracy has been underestimated. This results in being at the bottom of the European rankings for employment rate and quality of education. It is necessary to be aware that the prosperity of a country begins with the proper cultural preparation of its citizens.



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