A campaign to fight illiteracy

The Coalition for Literacy - a newly formed alliance of volunteer groups, businesses, and public-service organizations - is leading a stepped-up effort to wipe out illiteracy.

International Literacy Day is Sept. 8. Coalition members plan next year to launch a three-year national media blitz - similar to the ''Take a Bite Out of Crime'' campaign - to enlist the public in the fight.

As a part of the campaign, the Coalition for Literacy also plans to set up a hot line for people who want to learn to read or volunteer their help. Callers will be connected to a national clearinghouse for literacy services, and then referred to local agencies that can help them.

But coming up with the money for the campaign is proving difficult. The coalition has approached a number of foundations, but federal cutbacks have severely curtailed the foundations' grants, says Jean Coleman, coalition member for the National Library Association. Businesses, in the throes of recession, also are less liberal in their donations.

Literacy groups for years have trained thousands of volunteers to help undereducated adults. In addition, the federal government began funding adult basic education in 1964 and, in 1969, launched the Right to Read campaign. However, these efforts have failed to reach most illiterate people. According to a 1979 report prepared for the Ford Foundation, ''Only 2 to 4 percent of them (illiterates) ever enter the programs.''

It's hoped the coalition will help redress some of those charges. ''There is strong - but isolated - recognition of the problem of illiteracy,'' Ms. Coleman says. Through the campaign, she says, Coalition for Literacy could inform more people about the problem and help to mobilize those who want to help.

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