As the world observes International Literacy Day on Monday, Germany announced a program to teach the six percent of illiterate Germans over the age of 15 how to read and write.
Thousands of Germans have a hard time gleaning the meaning of the alphabet
There are about 4 million people like Uwe in Germany. People who, though able to function in everyday society, have trouble reading bank statements, menus, instructions or bills.
"There are illiterate people all over Germany," Peter Hubertus told the DPA news agency.
People are afraid of the stigma connected to illiteracy and have difficulties finding a job, Hubertus said.
"The map of people with little education has come to mirror the map of German unemployment," he said.
Nice people who don't want to offend
Germany wants literacy courses to be offered nationwide
In order to get the necessary reading and writing skills to leave the ranks of the unemployed, Uwe, who declined to have his last name used, decided to enroll in literacy courses at Berlin's Federal Association for Literacy and Basic Education (AVLB).
"I'm learning to write" said the 46-year-old, who had earlier worked as a truck driver in a family business. "To really write correctly in real sentences."
In Germany, there are 23,000 adults attending literary course annually. Some 69 percent of them are unskilled male workers. A further 75,000 are young people who left school early.
Bettina didn't drop out of school, but she said she was never at the head of the class.
"If I were to show you my diploma, you'd never believe that I can't read or write," she said. "I had average grades. I guess people are nice and don't want to offend someone with these things, but it wasn't aboveboard. If someone had been honest I could have got help earlier."
Instead, the 45-year old mother of three said she always had a children’s book in her hand, but she "didn’t read from the book I made up the stories myself."
New literacy foundation
The AVLB, supported with 30 million euros ($42.6 million) from the Federal Education Ministry, opened the Alfa Foundation on Monday to help people like Uwe and Bettina. The foundation aims to promote literacy among adults by offering long-term reading and writing courses all over Germany by 2012.
"It's not enough to concentrate on primary school children," Hubertus said. "We need more such projects like this and affordable adult evening classes, also intensive learning opportunities for people who are out of work."