COVID Slide magnifies literacy challenges across Texas
DALLAS, TEXAS ( March 24, 2021) Literacy Texas and the Baylor University Diana R. Garland School of Social Work released survey results today, identifying barriers created by COVID-19 impacting Texas nonprofit adult literacy providers and students. As with education, mental health, and other key human learning services, the so-called “Covid Slide” has significantly impacted literacy training. Though researchers determined that lack of access to technology is a major hurdle in literacy training, they identified a passionate and resilient community of professionals and volunteers committed to Texas’ adult literacy achievement.
During the darkest phases of the pandemic, Baylor’s Center for Church and Community Impact researchers canvassed the field to survey 285 nonprofit literary providers in the fall of 2020. The results were tabulated in early 2021, providing an insightful roadmap with anticipated challenges and potential solutions to bridge the learning gap and boost literacy statewide.
“Millions of Texans lack the ability to read and write. For decades, Baylor’s School of Social Work has provided solution-based research to help nonprofit literary organizations provide the support and instruction students need to improve their lives. We are proud to be a part of this study that sets literacy organizations on a more impactful path as we heal from this challenging pandemic,” said Dr. Gaynor Yancey, DSW, professor of social work and director of the Center for Church and Community Impact at Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.
Texas ranks 47th in literacy nationwide, spending an average of $8,350 per student annually compared to the national average of $11,762. Presently, Texas has the lowest national percentage of people aged 25 years and older to complete high school or GEDs. With poverty and language barriers, the strain of the pandemic has hit the underprivileged population hard. Job losses prove that reading and writing is more important than ever for job training to give adults and younger students a fighting chance for a better future.
Literacy Texas provides and empowers hundreds of literacy nonprofits with training and best practices to focus on what they do best: increase the number of literate Texans and together reach the goal of 100 percent literacy in our State. With support from the Texas Workforce Commission, this survey project is one the first of its kind related to the pandemic literacy fallout.
“The resounding will to teach and improve people's lives is alive and well in Texas. The survey has shown us that thousands of literacy students are anxious to return to classroom settings, and like the evolvement of telemedicine, food banks, and other critical social services, we must reboot out efforts to improve tele-literacy training,” said Steve Banta, executive director of Literacy Texas. “Access to iPads, laptops, cellphones, and other devices are top-of-mind as we return to learning in a healthier environment, where these survey findings will help us pinpoint areas in need of improvement.”
Barriers to Literacy and Solutions
- Technology is the key to bridging the learning gap. More than 71 percent of nonprofit survey respondents serving students listed lack of computers and internet access at home as major roadblocks to learning. 62 percent were unable to communicate with students without cell phones or email addresses, and many cited cultural and language barriers as a hurdle to communication.
- With faith-based organizations and libraries closed statewide during quarantine, nonprofit adult literacy programs suffered. When donations and financial support lessened, 35 percent of the literacy nonprofits surveyed listed a lack of financial resources to carry out training. Other challenges include the constant task of recruiting volunteers and instructors, and limited time for working students balancing jobs and families with little access to childcare.
The Upside of Humanity
- When COVID-19 cases spiked, most nonprofits tried to keep classes going, and 66 percent of polled providers never turned away students. On average many agencies offered instruction to nearly 50 students with 90 hours of instruction in the month of October. Though roughly 30 percent of the surveyed nonprofits shuttered operations due to lack of volunteers, many planned to reopen their doors as soon as possible in 2021.
- Roughly 70 percent of literary providers were able to successfully transition to virtual learning platforms. Nonprofits pivoted with different teaching platforms: one-on-one virtual and live socially distanced sessions; sanitized settings where gloves, masks and hand sanitizer were provided to students and volunteers; Literacy Connexus workshops were regularly scheduled and Literacy Texas Symposium conferences continue today.
Texas’ Story of Literacy: Fading Stigma
For some people, there is no such thing as huddling up by the fire with a good book. Literacy and reading have always been high on our national conscience. In the 1920s, literacy rates reached 70 percent in some parts of the U.S., when books were rolling off print presses, notes U.T. Arlington research. In the age of mass media and entertainment, reading and literacy have declined. Older residents with limited access to technology and incarcerated individuals, are among the most prone to illiteracy.
Fortunately, the stigma associated with illiteracy has lessened with time. The study revealed that only five percent of students are ashamed to admit that they cannot read or write, creating opportunities for students to share their stories.
Literary Lubbock Success Story
Heather thought it would be impossible to earn her GED with two small children, a baby on the way, and a full-time job. She said, “I contacted Literacy Lubbock, and was basically guided through the whole process. It was 100 percent easier than I thought it was going to be.” Other than being a parent, Heather takes more pride in her diploma than any other life achievement. “It’s a great feeling,” she says, hoping others will follow her example.
“This study emphasizes the need for assistance that many literacy nonprofits face when transitioning students to virtual options. I believe through greater collaboration, we can remove the roadblocks and create more pathways to success for our hard-working literacy providers,” said Mahalia Baldini, state director of Adult Education and Literacy for the Texas Workforce Commission.
Literacy Texas believes every Texan has the right to literacy and provides a series of free regional and statewide training symposiums throughout the year around an annual conference in August. The organization has a special focus on providing professional development for tutors, staff, instructors, and volunteers at nonprofit organizations providing adult literacy services. Through these events, organizations not only get training and the most up-to-date resources, but they also benefit from connecting and sharing ideas with other nonprofits statewide. Additionally, Literary Texas’ website currently holds a repository of over 300 hours of training resources.
Demographics and the Future
The scenario for people who cannot read or write is well-documented. According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), nearly half (41 percent – 44 percent) of all adults in the lowest level on each literacy scale live in poverty, compared with only four percent to eight percent of those in the two highest proficiency levels. Within a dozen years, the Texas labor force will need 60 percent of all 25- to 34-year-olds — almost two million citizens — to hold industry-recognized certificates and college degrees. Today, only 34 percent of this group is so equipped, and technology will be replacing one-fifth of the low-skilled workers.
A rise of one percent in literacy scores leads to a 2.5 percent rise in state labor productivity. PIACC findings also indicate that if literacy is not improved with technology, funding and increased volunteers, the number of people with no High School diploma will increase by 11.3 percent, and people with a bachelor’s degree will drop 5.3 percent from the years 2000 to 2040.
About Literacy Texas
Literacy Texas is a statewide nonprofit literacy coalition that provides leadership, advocacy, and adult education resources to help millions of Texans realize their full potential through literacy. Since 1989, Literacy Texas has provided leadership and adult training resources to hundreds of community-based organizations, ensuring that the voices of literacy groups are heard in all areas of business, government, and education statewide. For information visit www.literacytexas.org. Click Lead with Literacy!
About the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University
Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda focused on the integration of faith and practice. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (BSW); a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree available on the Waco or Houston campuses or online; three joint-degree options, MSW/MBA, MSW/MDiv and MSW/MTS, through a partnership with Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary; and an online PhD program.
About the Texas Workforce Commission
Adult education and literacy programs funded by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) provide English language, math, reading, and writing instruction to help students acquire the skills needed to succeed in the workforce, earn a high school equivalency, or enter college or career training. To learn more about TWC programs, visit www.TexasWorkforce.org, call 855-594-0012 or email AdultEducation@twc.state.tx.us for more information.