April 14th, 2021

Overcoming Adult Literacy Barriers to Engagement

Teachers and school staff, school administrators, and district communication teams expend a considerable amount of effort to ensure that they are able to reach all of the families they serve. They work hard to reach families who encounter various barriers. But what about guardians who face literacy challenges?

Reaching these families can pose serious difficulty for two reasons:

  1. It is simply extremely difficult. Almost all communications are sent out via some text form and it may feel that there is no way around this. This leaves the guardian responsible for finding a neighbor, family member, or other trusted adult to read the information to them. Some guardians will rely on their children – the students – to read communication to them. However, we do not want to leave children saddled with this responsibility, especially when we remember that the information may very well be about them.
  1. Schools and school districts may not know which guardians are facing these challenges. Without that information, schools are unable to target the guardians in need. 


Statistically, there is a great chance that every school district serves some families in which the guardians face literacy challenges. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2019), 43 million U.S. adults are illiterate or possess low literacy skills.  This represents 21% of the overall adult population and 43% of those considered to be economically disadvantaged. Given this information, a solution to reaching these guardians is critical for schools and districts.

Fortunately, the convergence of technology and family engagement and communication hold the answer. Tools that provide text-to-speech and dictation capabilities help break down this daunting barrier and convey a message of inclusivity. Some tools allow guardians to have information that has been sent to them read aloud, and that is a great place to start. 

However, given the importance of two-way communication, tools which also allow for dictation can be far more powerful. These tools allow guardians to initiate conversations with the adults who work with their children in a way that they may never have been able to before.

Even better is when these tools allow for these functions in multiple languages. For example, SchoolCNXT allows for an Arabic speaking mother with literacy challenges to communicate directly with her child’s English speaking teacher. This empowers the mother and allows her to be involved in a way she may never have felt comfortable doing before.

While the focus of this conversation is on those with literacy challenges, it is worth noting that guardians with language-based learning disabilities may benefit from these features as well. One mother who has dyslexia reached out to SchoolCNXT to let us know the difference these features made in her life. She was able to easily access any information sent to her and could confidently reach out to her children’s teachers without having to second guess her message.

School districts have certainly faced unprecedented challenges this year, some of which may be temporary. Others, however, are problems that have long persisted and only had a light shined on them recently. This is one of those challenges and it is critical that districts find a way to reach these guardians in order to best serve their children.

Emily Williams, SchoolCNXT Customer Success and Former Classroom Teacher

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