Is Britain Facing a Literacy Crisis?

Many prominent charities, teachers and publishers think that we are, with predictions including  the alarming one thta over 1.5 million 11 year olds will be unable to read properly by 2025 unless we change tack.

They are so serious that they launched a campaign last week which will attempt to confront this potential educational failure.  The report is entitled ‘Read on. Get on’ and suggests that England has one of the biggest inequalities in educational and literacy abilities among the developed countries.  In fact out of all the EU countries only Romania has a bigger gap in achievements.


The problem is most acute among the poorer element of society, in particular white British boys of whom 45% reach 11 years old without being able to read properly.  40% of them are poor reader almost double the rate from more affluent groups of society.  These proportions sound worrying on their own but predictions suggest that they are going to get worse in the short term.

So what are the campaign goals? Through a series of initiatives, including supporting parents to read with their children for 10 minutes a day – the main focus is to simply have all children being able to read well by 2025.  To have any 11 year old capable of reading, understanding and discussing a book like Harry Potter by their 11th birthday. It’s an increasing problem where kids have so much more options for entertainment such -e.g. using American DNS for Netflix

The report came up with some other findings which are quite alarming.  In nearly 25% of homes with 11 year old residing there, had less than 10 books in the house.     These figures suggest that we are failing the poorer sectors of our society who are likely to be trapped in poverty by low academic achievement.

The report suggests that not only was this a big problem for the families affected, it was also a problem for the economy.  It is suggested that these low levels of literacy have a negative effect on GDP, with improvements likely to result in greater economic success for the UK.

The Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee said levels of adult literacy and numeracy in England were “alarmingly low” and the Government was missing an opportunity to raise economic productivity.

The committee said there was a particular problem with the least literate and numerate adults being able to get help and support because they did not know it was available. Advertising of free adult literacy courses ended in 2010.

Adrian Bailey, chairman of the committee, said: “A national campaign will get the message out to those who are most in need of support.”

Catherine Cookson
Education and Technical Writer

Discovering Hidden Vocal Talents Through Learning

It often surprises people when they are told that they have a great singing voice and they should try to develop it because they could become a professional singer if they wanted to. Of course not everyone who learns this will want to steer their life career into this particular direction, but there are some who will certainly take it seriously enough to want to learn more.

It is for those that have a yearning to expand their previously unknown latent talent into a direction that could take them to new areas in life that the right kind of coaching could pay dividends. Once the decision has been made to take this talent and discover how to enhance it in the right way through education, the next step is to locate the best educational material and practical coaching that you cam.

One great place to start your search is a website dedicated to providing a range of reviews of the best online singing lessons: as all the information that you will need to get you started is coalesced in this one place. That’s because if you really want to be able to make the right choices for yourself, you need to have all the most useful and practical information at your fingertips.

It also helps enormously that a number of the best online vocal courses are fully reviewed so you can tell at a glance if they are exactly what you need of it they don’t provide enough of what you need to improve your singing capabilities. After all, having all theory and little or no practical tuition is only any good if you are considering taking exams.

If you mean to sing in a professional guise and in front of a live audience as it usually entails, you need to have solid, one on one coaching from a professional vocal teacher who can show you as well as tell you want you need to know and what you need to be doing. You need to know how to practice on your own and what exercises you need to be doing and for how long and how often. A good practical coaching course will do that.

Aside from this, the choice often comes down to personal preferences with regard to the professional trainer themselves, whether you prefer to work with a make or female trainer and what discipline in music they are focusing on. After all, you don’t really want to be learning to sing opera if your interest is in popular music or country and western, for example!

All in all, the final choice must be yours. But it really helps if you have all the information to hand to help you make up your mind based on the facts.

More on Financial Literacy Problems

It’s a subject that is becoming more and more relevant over the years, in truth it may be even more important than just normal literacy.  There are a huge number of  reports and surveys pointing to the low level of financial literacy among young people all over the developed world.  In fact when you see the huge debt problems that have dragged down economies and banks, then perhaps it’s time to start taking this a little more seriously.


The latest survey of financial literacy of any note was conducted by CNN who looked at 15 year olds in over 18 countries.  The results were quite surprising,  with the US students ranked about midway.  The top results went to the Chinese students, but there were good performances from Belgium, Estonia, Australia and New Zealand.  Within the tables though were worrying statistics like 20% of US students didn’t even make a level of ‘baseline efficiency’.

The reality is that if a subject is  not learnt at school it is often not learnt in adult life either.  Just as not being proficient in reading and writing can cause huge issues for adults, arguably financial illiteracy can wreak even more chaos.  It’s something that worries a lot of people, that adults often simply have no idea about debt, it’s costs , how to borrow money and paying it back.  You can travel around very poor areas with high levels of debt and see individuals driving around in cars which cost multiples of their annual salary.

The survey doesn’t really suggest that Chinese have all the answers to financial education though.  The students who were studied were hardly representative of the population as a whole.  Many of the were considered ‘gifted academically’ and they were all from China’s financial centre – Shanghai where education is generally far superior to rural areas.  But perhaps the lesson is that people with wealth and education, are more likely to have more success with money in the future.

There are definitely some lessons to be learnt though from all the countries who have done well.  All of  the top performers had financial literacy elements in their curriculum from a country wide basis.  Indeed there is an extensive financial literacy effort in Australian schools who are often recognised as being pro-active in many areas of education.  For example many pupils there take an interest in European economics and news, often logging in to BBC Iplayer Australia like this -

One of the issues that the US has is that decisions on what is taught in the classroom about finance is actually devolved to the states themselves rather than being mandated from a Federal level with many opting out of these recommendations. It does seem rather crazy to ignore financial education considering the amount of chaos large levels of private debt have helped cause in the last few years.

The world is growing ever smaller, and the financial skills of citizens of every country are likely to have a growing effect on the success of a country. The Japanese economy was built on a mountain of private debt and rampant materialism, it’s spent decades in the doldrums ever since that bubble of consumerism simply blew up the economy at the end of the last century. There are some excellent documentaries around the world about the effect of high levels of private debt in many European countries – they’re accessible by using a UK VPN for the British ones in any case.

Digital Literacy a Key to Success

There’s a growing belief that digital skills are vital for pretty much all sectors of society in the 21st Century. However there are sectors of most societies that are becoming more disadvantaged due to the lack of these skills.

Being digitally literate means that we can engage and use all the many digital methods of communication that are second nature to many. Whether it be at work or home the ability to share, communicate and disseminate information using digital communication methods is becoming as essential as basic literacy.

Without these skills there’s no doubt people will be at a disadvantage, but many are finding themselves in this situation through no fault of their own. Most of us are at ease with a laptop, computer or tablet and will happily communicate using whatever medium is available. A chat conference via Skype sounds very complicated but the majority of teenagers would have no problem engaging with this format. If you haven’t come across these digital tools though it can seem incredibly intimidating especially in a work environment.

Just as some people will happily use something like a proxy or VPN in order to access BBC iPlayer USA (normally this would be blocked because the BBC is only available in the UK), to others it might sound hopelessly complicated. The reality is though that over the last few years most digital technologies have become incredibly easy to use.

Nearly 30 years ago the first version of the Windows Operating System required a substantial level of technological skill to operate it successfully. You had to understand device drivers, batch files, operating systems and memory management. The newest versions of Windows and indeed all the operating systems which sit on our phones, laptops and computers require virtually no technology knowledge at all, most are intuitive and a little hands on experience is all that’s needed.

That’s why engaging with people who have limited access to this technology is so important. From the outside it seems complicated and difficult but the majority of people will pick up most of this technology very quickly when given the opportunity. Setting up technology rooms or displays in libraries is an ideal way to transfer this knowledge quickly and easily.

This sort of approach is not intended to create technology experts who can configure your laptop in seconds or set up a Smart DNS system on your new TV. What it does do, is to help people who may have developed a slight fear of this sort of technology and a feeling of being left behind. Today’s technology is deliberately designed to be all encompassing and there’s little reason for any sector of society to be left behind.

So What About Scientific Illiteracy?

We hear a lot of talk about literacy, but one of the most dangerous areas of ignorance is often completely ignored.  Scientific illiteracy is also one of the most prevalent issues in so many areas of the world today.

It often comes down to opinion, that people think it’s right to teach their own opinion as fact to children.  Simply stated science is not about opinion, you can have an opinion about art, music, religion and literature but not about science – it doesn’t work like that.

Funny Creationists

If enough people start spreading scientific nonsense it can end up creating a host of problems.   Ignorance in science can actually be very dangerous, in fact it can even cause deaths.

The most obvious situations where bad science can cause harm is of cause in medicine and health.    Take for example the belief that a vaccine is linked to autism, many people believe this without virtually no real evidence.  A belief like this can easily be perpetuated and each year there are thousands of needless deaths from various conditions which could easily be prevented by a childhood vaccine. There’s the problem – it’s fine believing something is true based on solid facts, research and reason – but if you believe just based on opinion well that’s just dangerous.

Which leads us to another obvious example of scientific illiteracy – the worrying growth of creationism.  In fact if you visit the Glendive Fossil museum you’ll see a whole building of made up rubbish masquerading as real science.  It’s role is to display fossils and dinosaurs in the context that the world is only a few thousand years old.  That man walked alongside the T-Rex at this time both having being created at the same time.

One of their aims is to disprove evolution, a theory that is so overwhelmed with evidence that it’s virtually impossible not to believe.   It would be very difficult to find a more widely supported scientific theory yet there are still millions of people who choose to believe it’s wrong despite all the evidence.

If you visit the museum you’ll find lots more nonsense to explore – how about the Grand Canyon being produced by a single event?   Yes a global flood is said to have created this national landmark and not the Colorado river which most people who have a proper functioning brain believe.  There’s also some serious comedy about how Noah fitted the entire animal world on his ark – they were all apparently hibernating to make it easier!

Fortunately most of us can laugh at places like a creationist fossil museum, but it is portrayed as serious and scientific.  The museum was going to join the Montana Dinosaur trail until thy changed their slogan to “150 million years in the making” which didn’t sit too well with their portrayed lunacy.

There is plenty of real scientific evidence on the internet too, but you should be careful where you search.  There are plenty of religious sites that portray ‘made up science’ as fact and truth – it often seems plausible if you don’t actually engage your brain.  Look for proper, traditional forms of scientific research – Universities, real museums, academic sources.  Even the media has good and bad sources – try looking across the water at the BBC for some great documentaries on a huge variety of science subjects – this YouTube video shows you how to access it from the US.

The author would like to point out that his views on creationism are much stronger than pointed out here.  You can see more videos on technical workaround using proxies and stuff here.

National Literacy Trust Announce – ‘Heroes’

She may at first be an unlikely hero, but when you think of it – her choice makes perfect sense.  The author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling has been named among 10 others as heroes for their services to literacy.

The author is said to have turned a whole generation of children into readers.  All the nominations have been chosen for their impact on communities reading and writing skills, or in some cases having overcome particular problems of their own.

The competition was launched by the Duchess of Cornwall who is a patron of the charity and their are many other notable nominations.  Here’s a couple more -

  • Lyn Hopson, from Doncaster, who runs schemes to promote a love of reading among young people
  • Leeds teacher – Velda Jackson
  • Richard O’Neill, a Romany gypsy author and storyteller who works in schools to improve literacy among traveller pupils
  • English teacher Caroline Thain, from Aberdeen

As you can see it’s not a list of high powered authors and literary geniuses,just real people with real jobs who have inspired literacy in others by whatever means.  All the nominations were in fact from the general public and then whittled down by a special panel including authors, business people and educators to name just a few of their roles.

There are talks to expand the nominations to organisations and even media sites, but these are not confirmed.  For example many people have suggested that the literacy section of the BBC is worthy of mention plus the various educational programmes that are transmitted.  Although it is difficult to access these from outside the UK – unless you use something like this -, so that would have to be considered.

The effective censorship of one of the world’s favorite broadcasters is unfortunate as it’s not really helpful to anyone outside the UK.  Although people do use techniques to access these sites – for example check this video out which explains the process thoroughly.

The idea though is to keep commercialism out of these particular awards and perhaps focus on the everyday people who provide such a boost to literacy particularly to our younger generation.


Why Literacy Rates Are Influenced By Proper Grammar

A group of people in the world don’t worry too much about their own literacy and that of those around them. You might ask why. It’s not to do with their expertise or their understanding on different subjects; they weren’t great at school and didn’t really get those fantastic grades that so many talk about; their written English, if in its original form, doesn’t have that much impact on the reader – whether this is a business report or a letter to complain about the poor service they received in a restaurant. It’s because they understand that their writing isn’t as great as Stephen King or as entertaining as one of Obama’s speeches (which he doesn’t actually write himself anyway). You might find that you’re similar and don’t think you write great, but there’s alternatively to having proper grammar and understanding of the English language:

I read the above post and it hit home with me. I’m okay at writing, I went through college and university and wrote at a reasonable level, but I wasn’t all that good at spelling and other things that people were great at. So, my literacy rate is probably around average so I think I’m in a good position.

The thing here is, though, that I’m thankful some individuals in society want to help others with their writing and their ability to formulate words and re-arrange words so that they read correctly. My grammar hasn’t been at all good in the past, I haven’t really a clue what the past participle is: it bored me during English class learning what they are all about, and I have kinda got by doing what I do. I understand what where and we’re are, and they’re and their, so I guess – with reading different posts, pages and comments online – that I’m not doing that bad in the English and literacy field anyway.

Here’s to writing that little bit better and having people understand that just because they think their writing is bad other people are available who can look over and correct the different things in your words so that people won’t think you’re a complete idiot.  Also to all those struggling to learn to read and write in a language other than their mother tongue.  There are many who learn simply online using tools like a UK VPN to access English speaking resources like the BBC and other UK Television companies who broadcast online.

Literacy in Personal Health Education

While schools teach a relatively varied curriculum of studies for their pupils, few teach some of the most important things that young people need to know for enjoying a full and prosperous life once they leave that institution. These include personal health education to the degree of understanding how much nutrition and diet as well as exercise and activity will affect their lives as they get older.

This is a shame, especially as we are seeing a trend toward weight gain in huge numbers along with more and more cases of diet related medical conditions affecting an ever younger demographic of the population. It would seem a most sensible path to take for those responsible for educating our children to ensure they are taught in sufficient detail what is probably the most important aspect of their very existence.

Understanding Health

The results of this lack in education are apparent in the way that society appears to be eating itself into ill health and obesity. People are doing this without realizing what is even happening inside their bodies in reaction to the poor diets they are unwittingly consuming.

The old values of a family unit have been eroded to such an extent that families rarely take meals together regularly as they once did. This has created a situation where individual members of the family are quite happy to “grab something quick” to eat and this becomes their normal mode of eating.

So many people’s staple diet consists of sandwiches, microwaved ready meals, takeaway food and cheap meals in fast food restaurants all washed down with copious volumes of fizzy soft drinks that are loaded with sugar. It’s no wonder so many people are gaining weight and becoming a part of the obesity statistics.

What Are the Solutions?

Of course it is simply not possible to turn back the clock and return to the ways of five decades or so ago. The current trend for eating and drinking will only continue and gradually become worse through simple ignorance of the facts about nutrition and how diet affects the body and ultimately a person’s health.

One way of cushioning this potentially deadly blow for societies that are most affected by this shift in lifestyle is to educate people while they are still young. Instilling a sense of family values, eating together at meal times and eating wholesome meals made from fresh ingredients and not processed foods would be a step in the right direction.

If only it were possible that the main meal of the day consisting of a wholesome home cooked meal was to replace a meal consisting of processed junk. The population as a whole would reduce its physical growth in inches and start on the road to a healthier way of life.

Other smaller changes would follow as more people become truly aware of the importance of eating healthily. It would promote a better personal health image that people would have of themselves and that they could carry throughout their lives which can only be a great benefit to individuals as well as to whole societies.

Poor Life Skills in UK Adults

Last year the UK Government commissioned a pretty big survey called Skills for Life.   The survey covered the two important skills that adults need – language and numeracy.  The findings were pretty surprising and quite worrying for a modern nation.  Here’s a clip from the infographic provided by  the report -

As you can see the figures are quite surprising, in London for example 17% of respondents had a literacy level of a 9-11 year old.  The same result was recorded for the North East, but throughout the country around 10% of Adults has a literacy level worse than a primary school child.  The sample for this study was adults aged 16-65.

In Maths the survey found even more worrying results in many areas, 25% of adults who took part in the survey had the mathematics skills of a 9-11 year old.  If these figures were transposed onto a national level that would mean 8 million UK citizens are lacking even basic numeracy skills.

This of course will cause many problems for those involved.  They will be seriously disadvantaged in careers, in health and of course as parents.  This latter role is likely to see these disadvantages in many cases passed down the generations through their children.

For those who may find themselves with adult literacy or numeracy problems – it’s worth checking out the BBC education site.  There’s loads of online resources which can help people brush up on their skills in the basics of Maths and English.  Most items are accessible internationally but some areas are restricted to UK only but you can use resources like this page to show you how to change your IP address and access through a UK server very easily.


The Literal Obesity Fix

Access to a wealth of information that is provided by both the Internet and the television media with its ever growing collection of educational channels ought to be resulting in greater awareness of the things that matter in our lives. Common sense and logic would dictate that we should all be growing wiser, faster thanks to this miraculous power of knowledge at our fingertips.

Yet in many areas, our lives are no better for it. In the area of physical health, we actually seem to be going backwards in our ability to look after ourselves. The frightening statistics on the overweight and obese in our society tell their stark, incontrovertible truth.

How Can This Be?

It can be argued that one of the biggest causes of obesity in modern times is ignorance fuelled by denial. While overeating and overindulging a poor diet are the physical causes of a person’s excessive weight gain, it is literally the failure to understand why such actions create the problem in the first place.

This fact is surely a contradiction when the means to understand this problem is available for anyone who cares to look. Yet here it is, with over half of the population of the United States and Britain classed as overweight or obese.

The only logical explanation for this state is that people are not willing to educate themselves on nutrition and diet. The information is there for anyone to read about in countless health related websites. Or for those too lazy or unwilling to read, they can even watch the many informative videos that are now available online.

Know Your Enemy

Learning how to effectively combat weight gain and obesity is actually pretty easy. It takes a little inventiveness to cut through a lot of the unhelpful, rambling to get to the good stuff in a lot of written articles. Likewise, it takes some focusing on the objective to avoid wasting much time watching the many distracting fun video clips.

By learning the main aspects of what causes weight gain and addressing them in the individual’s circumstances, a large part of the problem can be easily negated. Knowing which foods and beverages are the main culprits for loading high levels of excess calories to the daily allowance gives the person the means to eliminate or at least reduce the amounts of those items that are consumed each day.

Understanding the Body

It also helps immensely to have an understanding of how the human body works in terms of the metabolism of food. With this knowledge a person can see where they need to make positive changes to facilitate the reduction of the amount of energy they consume compared with what they are expending.

Once this balance has been understood and established, it really is only a matter of choosing how to modify the diet so that it is healthier while still remains interesting. More information on diet, nutrition and maximizing the body’s own metabolic process to maintain a healthy weight can be found by visiting this highly informative weight loss website: It covers all aspects of losing weight and maintaining good health in easy to read articles designed to help people to beat obesity and regain a healthy figure in an easy and enjoyable way.

Literacy in Health

What can you honestly say is the state of your general health? Do you think it is pretty good, average or going in the wrong direction? How ever you view your own health, it may be pleasing or not to you but you should try getting a second opinion from someone you know who is not likely to butter things up for you!

The fact is that knowing exactly how your health is can mean the difference between peace of mind and worry. When you have peace of mind, you can relax and enjoy life, but when you worry, you tighten everything up and elevate your stress levels. This in turn forces you to be tense and not enjoy life so much. Let’s explore this idea in a little more detail.

Why Worry About Worry?

It may seem strange to hear, but plenty of people actually worry about the things they have to worry about in their lives. This is a nasty spiral that can drag a person down into the depth of depression. The sad part of it is that it is completely avoidable by employing some mental discipline.

No one should have to worry about things that are not worth making yourself ill over. A common theme is worry over finances or lack of them, including debt and economic impact on a family or personal budget. Another is worry over the fidelity of a partner or over losing them for one reason or another.

The problem with worrying over things is that the more you worry, the more you are going to attract the very thing you are worrying about to actually come about!

Turning Worry into Calm Confidence

No one should suffer the ill effects of the stress caused by worrying. In fact, as already mentioned above, by bringing into play some mental discipline, you can actually turn away from your worries and make them recede into minor concerns while you turn toward the things that bring you contentment and joy.

It’s all about the state of mind and what you are going to allow in there and what you are going to keep out. It has been said that light and dark are not two things, but two aspects of the same thing. To get into the light, you don’t try and banish the dark through force of will; you simply face the light, or turn on the light by the switch!

Worry and contentment are similarly two sides to the same thing.

Instead of trying to banish the worrying by focusing all your attention on it (which just makes things worse), you turn away from the thing that is causing the worry and focus your attention on the thing that brings you contentment. By dint of the nature of things, that which you give your attention to grows in stature in your mind, while that which you ignore shrinks in stature to become virtually inconsequential.

Treating your health to a booster by reducing stress is a vital part of enjoying life and you do that by focusing on things that bring you joy and ignore those things that require you to worry over them. Gaining a better understanding of this concept is an excellent way to improve your health in general (see: for more information) and bring more happiness and joy into your life. It is literally about gaining literacy in your personal health by design!

Literacy in the Factory

It is often assumed it is not necessary to be able to read to work in a factory. This is becoming less and less the case as factory equipment is becoming ever more complex and as safety procedures ever more tight. It might be the case that you can be a migrant worker in China fresh in from the countryside with no reading skills and be able to secure some type of work in a factory making alarm clocks or Christmas decorations for dollar shops abroad, but it is not the case in the USA.

Without reading and writing skills it is very difficult to fill out an employment form, to fill out your tax returns and to apply for social benefits. It is also difficult to get a driver’s licence without some basic literacy skills.

As the basic manual-labor orientated jobs are being outsourced to cheaper countries in South America and Asia, it means that the jobs that are available in Colorado and indeed the rest of the USA require skills.

For example, vacuum furnace with carbon fibre insulation requires a lot of studying in order to be operated safely. Not only are standard maintenance practices such as cleaning and lubrication required, but also constant monitoring is needed to check for leaks in the joints. There is a real risk with vacuum furnances of burns and electrocution if safety procedures are not followed. With oil diffusion pumps if the fill pump is opened while the oil is hot it can lead to an explosion. Maintenance of furnace chamber internals can only be done with correct space entry and electrical lockout procedures. If not residual gases can cause asphyxiation.

This example of the complexity of modern factory equipment clearly shows the importance of safety in the factory workplace. This can only be achieved by carefully studying machinery and being able to read safety manuals and pass written as well as practical safety tests.