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LIfBi Lecture: Low literacy endangers participation opportunities

Around 6.2 million people in Germany have difficulty reading and writing. This is shown by the current LEO Study 2018 "Living with Low Literacy": With a sample of around 7,000 participants, it records the frequency of the phenomenon of low literacy among adults and provides information on the age, gender, origin, family and employment status as well as school and vocational training of those affected. In addition, everyday practices as well as certain basic competencies of adults with low literacy skills are examined. In her LIfBi Lecture, Prof. Dr. Anke Grotlüschen, Professor of Lifelong Learning in the Department of Educational Science at the University of Hamburg, presented key findings and implications of LEO 2018.

12.1% of the adult population in Germany can read and write letters, words and individual sentences, but have difficulty understanding a longer coherent text. At the time of the first LEO study in 2010, the term "functional illiteracy" was still in use for this; today, the term "low literacy" is used. Literacy is understood as part of basic education, which benefits social participation. In her LIfBi Lecture, however, Anke Grotlüschen emphasized that basic education programs that have a positive effect on participation opportunities include not only the promotion of literacy, but also integration measures, labor market programs and parent counseling.

Adults with low literacy skills have a higher proportion of men than women, more older people than younger people, and almost half of them have a language of origin other than German. In the current LEO study, it was evaluated for the first time whether low literacy skills are also present in the language of origin for people with a non-German first language. Here, 78% of those affected state that they can read and write quite demanding texts in their first language. Support measures in the area of literacy are thus closely linked to integration measures.

Low literacy in everyday life, work and society
EO 2018 shows that more than 60% of the low-literate are employed, but mainly in (precarious) occupational fields in which writing and reading hardly play a role. At the same time, their concern about losing their job is higher than average, and their access to continuing vocational training is significantly lower than in the population as a whole.

Occupational activity has a significant influence on (non)participation in basic education measures: While most respondents indicate that they participate in such literacy measures in order to be able to improve themselves professionally, occupational restrictions are also one of the main reasons for not participating or not being able to participate in such measures.

Basic competencies and participation
The LEO study looked not only at literal practices (How often do I do something?) but also at functional-pragmatic competencies (What can I do?) and critical-questioning competencies (Can I judge?). The study results show that as the level of literal practices and functional as well as critical competencies decreases, the risk of participation exclusion increases.

In terms of communication, low-literate individuals disproportionately use voice messages and video calls. Daily news, while frequent, is consumed primarily through the spoken word (videos, television). However, people with low literacy skills are significantly less likely to converse about current political issues among friends and acquaintances.

Especially with regard to the Corona pandemic and increasing right-wing populism/extremism, Anke Grotlüschen therefore sees concrete dangers for low-literate people. This is because the threat to people with low literacy skills is initially evident in everyday reading and writing practices - but to a greater extent in functional-pragmatic and critical-questioning skills in the domains of politics, health, finance and digitization.

In the concluding discussion, Anke Grotlüschen and her audience discussed, among other things, the possibilities of comparative analyses with LEO data and data from the National Education Panel (NEPS), with great agreement on the potential of combining both data sources.


Link [external] to the profile page of Prof. Dr. Anke Grotlüschen at the University of Hamburg

Link [external] to the recording of the LIfBi Lecture



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