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Functional Illiteracy in Germany

Millions of people in Germany cannot adequately read, write or do arithmetic, despite having gone through the German school system. Often termed functional illiterates or persons with insufficient basic education they increasingly encounter more and more difficulties not only in meeting the complex demands of the labour market, but also those of their personal lives.

The result is stigmatisation and social exclusion. A lack of basic education leads to a higher risk of poverty and makes integration into the labour market more difficult as it blocks access to vocational qualifications.

The number of functional illiterates in Germany is considerably higher than previously thought. According to a study undertaken by the University of Hamburg, presented in Berlin on the 28th of February 2011, 14% of Germans between the ages of 18 and 64 are affected by “functional illiteracy”. That is 7,5 million people of working age. Experts had previously assumed a figure of four million.
This means: 14% of the population of working age can only read or write individual phrases but not coherent or even short texts. These people are ill-equipped for an appropriate participation in society, write the authors of the study.

More than 8000 individuals were questioned for the study. Above all, individuals with no or low-level school leaving qualifications are particularly affected by functional illiteracy. These make up nearly 70% of the total number. In addition to this, the number of the working population who cannot read or write properly is startling: nearly 60% of people who are considered functionally illiterate have a job.

In other EU countries there is also a high percentage of functional illiterates. In Great Britain 16% of the population of working age cannot read or write. In France the figure is only 9%, although there only individuals with school leaving qualifications were included in the study. In Austria there has not yet been a study into the number of illiterates. According to an estimate by adult education centres, approximately 600,000 Austrian adults do not have adequate reading, writing and arithmetic skills.