Pandemic Series | Closed offices, but open doors

Ensuring access to literacy education and digital resources during COVID-19

by Alexis Cherewka

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities across nearly every aspect of our society, and access to adult education and digital resources are no exception. A certain level of literacy and access to digital resources are required for the navigation of critical tasks in these times, such as searching for employment or using telehealth services. Without access to literacy or digital resources, navigating these tasks becomes nearly impossible.

Although literacy is important for well-being, effective citizenship, and employment-related outcomes, one in six adults in the United States has low literacy skills (OECD, 2013) and merely 3.4% of all potential adult learners are being served nationally.[1] Additionally, the gap between those who are digitally connected and those who are not connected is widening (Robinson et al., 2015). People of color, rural residents, and those with lower levels of education or incomes are continuously less likely to have access to high-speed internet (Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, 2019).

Completing critical tasks, such as supporting a child’s online education and acquiring housing, while “smartphone-dependent” (Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, 2019), demonstrates daily inequities experienced by one in five Americans. Thus, as we continue to fight for larger, structural changes within our educational systems, it is also imperative that we question how we can provide access to literacy and digital tools needed to complete these critical tasks. Adult literacy organizations are among the many advocates supporting educational and digital access for adults, especially in light of the growing inequalities exacerbated by this pandemic.

Adult literacy organizations in the U.S. take many …

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