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Editor’s note: This is another article by Alex; and if you have not guessed already I have given him the Friday slot for the time being.

Today’s article tells a story of a man who, like all of us, seems to have his own set of troubles. In this case a harsh trouble of lacking reading and writing skills, a barrier high and wide for anyone trying to progress in the world.

Several days a week I attend the International Learning Centre in Manchester. I have come across all sorts of people and characters in life and at this learning centre there are a variety of individuals from different ages and ethnic groups, as you might expect, with aspirations to gain qualifications to gain employment. However, in my cloud of ignorance (a cloud we can all be guilty of living under) I was not expecting to come across a man in his forties who was illiterate and unemployed.

The scene is as follows: a man and his partner enter the back computer room to be interviewed for enrolment onto an ICT course for a similar qualification I’m working towards. The interviewer is somewhat stunned, though shows it as little as she can, when the man timidly admits he has trouble reading and cannot really hand write at all.

His partner grips his hand firmly as she expresses to the interviewer that she generally assists him with filling out forms, reading letters and so on. Frustrated and embarrassed they are then told that there are no staff who “specialise in that particular tutoring” available at the learning centre, as this service is not regularly requested.

I, myself find it heartbreaking but not surprising that even as having English as the first and only language there are people in this country, young and older, that have to face the embarrassment of this ordeal. Most, by some margin I expect, will not seek help and tuition. I imagine it conjures even more potent feelings of failure and abandonment than I go through in my current existence (mainly to do with being unemployed and moneyless).  The difference being that without the basic skills you really do need as much help and care as possible, and to plead for all this surely stops you in your tracks; you have to admit your weakness to strangers and work very hard to even get to the level of a primary school child’s literacy ability.

I listened in further on the interview, taking part only some inches away from me. Eventually it was agreed that the man is to be enrolled on Entry Level 1 and will be assigned a personal tutor; he may also be referred to a private specialist, who teaches adults to read and write. I also felt for the interviewer as she was not notified in advance and it was evidently an awkward encounter.

The most shocking part of all this, however, is while the problem with illiteracy obviously exists, the ‘system’ doesn’t provide the support necessary for its solution;  therefore this guy will be referred to a private tutor which will cost money he and his partner most definitely don’t have. There is also no tutor at the learning centre who is obliged or indeed formally trained to do the good deed themselves. The argument for this seems to be that their roles are to teach at a certain level, from basic to advanced, but not to have to endure the grappling task of starting on page one with students.

In short, this is a problem that is not foreseen and unemployed people could easily fall between the cracks: they need to enhance their education (however basic this may be) to get a job and be able to support themselves; but do enhance their education will take resources (and other forms of personal investment) they don’t have.

In our society we have many benefits and an understanding of individuality and circumstances; yet it is on the fringes of social acceptability for a person only to have a basic grasp of grammar and spelling. We put up with poor usage of English (within commonly used ‘text talk’ and social media websites) as if it is normal in the Western World not to bother with the correctly written word. But some struggle more than others and as a whole we’re getting worse with our own language. Though you cannot blame a person who didn’t get a proper education, only those who did but refuse to care.

I see it as due to our clustered society, littered with inconsistencies; a class system that contributes to disillusion and the ignoring of those who struggled at school, or indeed had an interrupted or troubled upbringing. Surely the days of manual labour when people could get away with being functionally illiterate are over. Can you get a job today without being able to read or write? And what lies in the future for the man from the Learning Centre and those like him?

I suspect more troubles and embarrassing situations ahead, and although I don’t know him, his story or his background, my heart goes out to him: the hurdles he is dealing with can suck the very life out of a person’s attempts to leap forward.

photo credit: jon|k via photopin cc