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.
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?