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I have written so much recently about the pleasure of reading and wanted to post a little about another side of the coin, literacy.

What is Literacy?

A UNESCO definition says « A literate person is one, who can, with understanding, both read and write a short statement relevant to routine life, and capable of analytical understanding of men’s condition in the world ». Literacy is a means of freeing individuals and nations, helping them develop their economic status, health and general well being and almost always bringing about fairer sex equality.

Why is Literacy Important?

Literacy is more than just a good education. It is a powerful tool to reduce poverty and an important means for social and national progress. A basic education that equips both boys and girls to read and write has far reaching consequences. Literate people are more likely to seek further educational opportunities. Educated societies are better geared to keep up with the rapid world development and ever changing technology. A literate nation is better equipped to: combat disease, reduce escalating population growth, raise the standard of living and diminish the gender gap.

The Statistics

20-25% of adults world-wide are illiterate. Roughly 75 million children do not attend school. Almost 35 countries have a literacy rate of less than 50% and more than 10 million people in their nation who are illiterate. Two thirds of the world’s illiterate population is female!

This map from mapsmania (the darker the green the greater the literacy) shows a concentration of illiteracy in the continent of Africa, across the Middle East and into the Indian Subcontinent. To give you just one example, the CIA puts the illiteracy rate in Afghanistan at 71.9%. I do think it is important to note, though, that illiteracy is a global problem, crossing all borders and not confined to developing nations.

What can we do?

While I know we are rightly very focussed on the crisis in Japan at the moment, I want to give a couple of possibilities through which we, or maybe our schools, could become personally involved in working towards a literate world.


The Literacy Site, where a daily click via their facebook page can help bring books to children in need.

Pennies for Peace is also an awesome program for kids to become involved in which helps bring education and literacy to rural communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Operation USA has invested much in educational projects in many nations, most recently in rebuilding schools in Haiti, a nation with an illiteracy rate of about 55%.

There are many, many great ways to help combat our world’s illiteracy problems and I would love to hear more from you. Maybe you are involved in some great local literacy projects?


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6 Responses to Literacy

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    Outstanding article Joanna. Good information and I liked your showing a map. It is no accident that those countries that have the highest illiteracy rates, are the ones constantly at civil war. It’s unfotunate how dictators and extremists keep their populations illiterate so that they can control them, and parents sell children into slavery because they need money to live. An educated population changes the dynamics as we’re beginning to see in the middle east. This is a subject very close to my heart and the work I do at the Peace Museum. Am glad you touched on it. And, unfortunately we still have illiteracy in our own countries.

  2. Fantastic post, Joanna. Your posts are so well-drawn, and thought-provoking. Thank you.

    Those statistics are staggering, and the map makes it so graphically clear. I so appreciate that you mentioned Operation USA’s work in education.

    I noticed, when I was choosing the books for my “prize” from Barefoot Books, that some of their books are available for a cost of only $5.00 — and those particular books are shipped directly to Africa for children there. I think that’s an excellent way to get books into the hands of children. I think I’ll do a post about it! You’ve inspired me!

  3. Pingback: The Gift of Literacy | elizabethannewrites

  4. Joanna says:

    @Pat, it is indeed a sad fact that illiteracy can actually be a strategy for certain in power :(. As you well know, peace is usually a prerequisite for real literacy progress in a nation. Yes, I did want to include that few developed nations have truly wiped out illiteracy.

    @Beth, I myself was shocked at some of the extreme statistics in certain nations. I love the fact that Barefoot Books have included some that can be sent directly to children in Africa and I certainly look forward to your post.

  5. Diane says:

    wow, Joanna this is certainly thought provoking. This reminded me of the “Milly Molly” books from an earlier post I did, that are being sent to children who cannot get books to read in other countries. Acutally only the other day we received notification of a “Literate Impared Card” that people here are able to produce so that they can get help in reading or filling in forms etc as they go about there daily lives. I to am happy to hear you mention Operation USA and there good work. Thanks again Joanna for an inspiring post.

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