Up to one in 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia (a learning difference that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling). In fact, one in five adults are considered functionally illiterate.
Those numbers might come as a surprise to some people because it means adult illiteracy is quite common, right? And yet, we don’t really hear many conversations around it.
But a new TV series highlights the fact that, thanks to the stigma so often attached to dyslexia and literacy problems, it’s not something people living with them are likely to openly talk about.
Sandi Toksvig – whose son is dyslexic – decided to explore adult illiteracy in her Channel 4 series, The Write Offs. It’s about time a spotlight was put on an issue that affects so many people, after all.
The empowering and uplifting new two-part documentary series offers a group of adults – aged between 22-66 – a lifechanging opportunity to overcome the one thing that has always held them back. It also gives viewers first-hand, rounded insights into what it’s really like to grow up with literacy problems (far too many viewers will no-doubt painfully relate to people with learning difficulties being deemed “stupid” in the school classroom).
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The eight adults struggle with the basic skills necessary for many everyday situations, such as writing shopping lists, reading texts and filling out forms (one man talks about the time he was sent away from the Job Centre because he couldn’t complete the application). But they are provided one-on-one tuition and Toksvig sets tasks over a four-month period.
From the 66-year-old town crier who hopes to one day write a thank you letter to all those who’ve supported him, to the young mum who wants to be able to help her kids with their homework – they all have different personal motivations for wanting to improve their literacy.
It’s a heartwarming, inspiring and education watch. And it rightfully shames society about not having enough awareness or understanding of adult illiteracy. Because of this, so many people have missed out on the right support as a result and it has hugely impacted their overall lives.
That’s why viewers are praising the documentary.
Toksvig kicked off the discussion with a viral tweet, saying: “I’d love you to tune in to @Channel4 now for the finale of #TheWriteOffs - a show it has been my true honour to work on, shining the light on the issue of adult illiteracy across the UK.”
One of the star’s wife tweeted about how important the experience had been for her family, writing: “I am Craig’s wife and I wanted to share my appreciation of all the amazing messages of support! It’s been a real rollercoaster ride! He has done amazing and our daughter Freya really is a special and wise little girl. She is so kind and supportive of Craig’s journey.”
One (of very many) viewers pointed out why the show is so important, explaining: “The Write Offs @Channel4 is essential viewing. Those taking part are so brave. They’ve been failed by the education system and I hope this gives them the help they need. Sadly I know of several families struggling to get appropriate help now #TheWriteOffs.”
Another viewer asserted: “Watching #thewriteoffs and am reminded of the importance of inclusive education. To label any child ‘stupid’ because they do not understand something can have long-lasting consequences. All of these people are stars and I can only imagine how proud their tutors are!”
And, of course, our host got lots of praise, with one fan writing: “Sandy Toksvig is literally the only famous person I’d trust with a show like #thewriteoffs. She has the perfect combination of school teacher and sympathy.”
Images: Channel 4
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…