The concern over the growing illiteracy of children is not new; it is something that has plagued the minds of parents and teachers alike for years. It has become a joke with the older generations to complain about “kids these days” and how they are “always on those phones,” but there is some truth in their jokes. Many children are always on their phones, tablets, or computers. Generation Alpha (about 2010-2024) is the first generation to grow up exclusively with technology. Many of them have never known a life without cellphones and high-speed internet. Their whole lives have been consumed by it, which was made worse by the global pandemic that halted the world and made everyone live virtually. For the children just beginning school during that time, their education timeline was wholly disrupted in a way that may affect the remainder of their schooling years and beyond. They did not learn things as effectively online as they could have in the classroom. Many do not understand basic things such as writing their names or telling the difference between capital and lowercase letters. The importance of reading has gone down, and because of that, so have critical thinking skills. This phenomenon should cause alarm and change how people think about our education systems.

          I spent my childhood with my nose in a book. I always grasped for the next mystery to unravel or fantasy land to be consumed in. Reading and writing always came easy for me, and I loved it. I had family and teachers who encouraged this feeling and helped me cultivate it. I loved it so much that it directed me on a career path: wanting to be a writer, specifically writing children’s books. I wanted to give the kids of the future the same joy and experiences I had when I was little. From what I have seen, this is not the case for many kids today. This observation is unfortunate because reading and comprehension are essential to many aspects of life and most career paths. It makes me sad and frustrated that children are not getting the same opportunities I had to develop a love of reading. They are not given the same tools to understand and enjoy literature.

          As I stated, my experience is different from the experiences of many young kids today. Current student teachers and tutors are concerned for the futures of these children. Allegedly, they are not comprehending grammar and various skills at the level they should be. Many of them are not hitting target scores for their grade, and they do not like reading because they find it difficult. Some of these children write as if they are texting and believe this to be appropriate in formal writing. It is unclear whether this decline in literacy is from a surge in new legislation restricting what children may learn, the increasing use of social media, or a continued aftershock of learning during the pandemic. The pay for teachers is not nearly as much as it should be with how much they give, which has caused a decline in passionate teachers. More than likely, it has something to do with all these factors and more. It has also been alleged that school libraries are in near disuse, and some are being taken out and turned into lounges for more scientific uses. Science and math are necessary subjects, as are reading and social studies. One cannot make well-rounded kids by ignoring these key subjects.

          The National Center for Education Statistics conducts “the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment” every two years to measure the student’s achievements and help relate how their educational journeys are progressing. Students who take the assessment can land in one of three categories: NAEP Basic, NAEP Proficient, and NAEP Advanced. Basic means the student has a ground-level understanding of the topic, proficient means they have a solid understanding, and advanced means they excel. While tests are not always a reliable way to tell how students are doing—some are bad test takers or do worse under pressure—the 2022 examinations showed concerning statistics. They reported that out of the fourth graders nationally taking the exam, thirty-seven percent scored below NAEP Basic, which means they do not comprehend the material at their expected grade level. This percentage is four points higher than the exam score in 2019. The percentage of eighth graders who scored below NAEP Basic was thirty-two percent, again, an increase from 2019. They also stated that in both fourth and eighth graders, the score declines in 2022 are the highest they have reported since the 1990s. The understanding of literary and informational texts has decreased in the past four years, which is cause for concern. To stop these downward trends from continuing, people must evaluate the education system and question how to better suit children and their changing needs.

          Literacy is important. It is a critical part of being a functioning human in society. The education crisis leads to children not having developed literacy skills and falling behind where they need to be. While there may be many factors contributing to this fact, it is important to analyze why these trends are occurring and what we can do to change what is flawed in the system. In a world full of misinformation, it is vital to have the ability to think critically and for oneself. It is not an option to leave these children behind.

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