Formally, the availability of education for children has increased around the world over the last decades. However, despite having a successful formal education career, adults can become functional illiterates. Functional illiteracy means that a person cannot use reading, writing, and calculation skills for his/her own and the community’s development. Functional illiteracy has considerable negative effects not only on personal development but also in economic and social terms.

The most frequently referenced definition of “functional literacy” is from UNESCO’s conference in 1978: “A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.”  The UNESCO definition implies that a functionally literate person possesses a literacy level that equips him or her to flourish in society. A functionally illiterate person, on the other hand, may be able to perform very basic reading and writing, but cannot do so at the level required for many societal activities and jobs.

  According to a new report by the Authority for Quality Assurance in Primary and Secondary Education (ADIPPDE) in Greece, many Greek high schools students graduate practically illiterate in regards to basic life skills, much less skills that would place them in the job market. More specifically, 16-year-olds finish the second year in high school lagging behind in critical school lessons that correspond to basic life skills, the independent authority of the Ministry of Education warns. In particular, the annual ADIPPDE report for 2019 shows that second-grade students in general and vocational high schools fare poorly in several lessons. For example, in Modern Greek, 7.1% of high school students were graded below the base in the 2017-2018 school year. Much worse is the situation in Physics, where one in two (48.4%) graduate with a grade below the base. Equally bad are the scores in mathematics: in Algebra, 38.9% of students were graded below the base and 44.2%  in Geometry. The performance of second-grade students in vocational high schools is even worse, where one in five (20.4 %) scored below the base in Modern Greek and more than half in mathematics (52.7% in Algebra and 51.3%  in Geometry). In Physics and Chemistry the percentages are lower but also high (41% and40.8%, respectively).           

ADIPPE states that these students are at risk of being functionally illiterate by the time they graduate. The report points out that the poor scores in high school is not exclusively a problem of secondary education but the cumulative effect of educational problems in grade school and junior high school.                                                                       The ADIPPE report suggests the following to improve the quality of primary and secondary education:

  • Reform of the legislative framework regarding student assessment at different levels.
  • Teacher training in assessing students with differentiated methods.
  • Prevention of functional illiteracy.
  • Supporting teachers to further exploit digital educational content

            The formation and development of competences start in the process of education. Due to the increasing amount of information in the modern world today, knowledge cannot be obtained once and for all. This actualizes the issue of lifelong education. Maximum competence in selected areas is the life-affirming purpose of an individual. Functional literacy is a tool to achieve maximum competence in selected areas of skills training in lifelong education.                                                                                The problem of functional illiteracy is furthermore most urgent when it comes to state and municipal civil servants, whose professional activities largely affect the life of the country as a whole and of each of us in particular.


ADIPPE (2019), Annual Report: Study of Student Assessment in

Primary and Secondary Education. Digital Repositories and their exploitation in Education, available in

UNESCO (1978), Records of the General Conference. 20th Session, Vol. 1. Paris: UNESCO


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