Thursday, 8 September 2011


“If you are planning for tomorrow, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.” – Chinese Proverb

Today is International Literacy Day and it is of particular importance worldwide, as there are now close to 1.5 billion illiterate people in the world. A combination of ambitious goals, insufficient and parallel efforts, inadequate resources and strategies, and continued underestimation of the magnitude and complexity of the task accounts for the unaccomplished goal of literacy for all.

Literacy is a fundamental human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational and employment opportunities depend on literacy. Basic education for all implies that we make literacy possible, and this is essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.

Basic education of good quality will allow students to develop literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development needs. One in five adults is still not literate today and about two-thirds of them are women while 67.4 million children are out of school.

The General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution A/RES/56/116, proclaimed the ten-year period beginning 1 January 2003 as the United Nations Literacy Decade. Furthermore, in its “Education for All” resolution A/RES/57/166, the Assembly welcomed the International Plan of Action for the Decade and decided that UNESCO should take a co-ordinating role in activities undertaken at the international level within the framework of the Literacy Decade. The evidence collected is uncontested: Education has a direct impact on health, nutrition, employment, and citizenship. Education drives the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals for developing countries as it equips people with knowledge and skills to break the cycle of poverty and shape their future life chances.

Three major priorities that governments and international institutions must urgently act upon in order to achieve literacy are:
Firstly equality, with all children being able to enjoy their right to education. Girls in the poorest 20% of households are over three times more likely to be out of school than boys. Disability, gender, minority status, language, and emergency situations remain causes for exclusion from an education. Geographic factors and schools too distant to be practicable are also important factors contributing to illiteracy.

Secondly, quality is important. 

Far too many schools are under-resourced with even the basics missing: Desks, blackboards, pens, textbooks, electricity, sanitation, and running water are often inadequate or completely lacking. How many classes are held in the open air with lessons scratched on soil? Qualified teachers, by far the most important resource, are lacking. Thus, basic reading and numeracy skills after more than six years in school are still inadequate in many communities.

Thirdly, finances are a priority, and without funds specifically directed towards schooling, many children will not get an opportunity to an education and may even remain illiterate. 

The financial crisis has forced many countries to cut their spending on education and parents remove their children from school or simply do not send them at all. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) estimates the financing gap to reach Education for All in low-income countries at $16 billion annually.

Unfortunately, illiteracy is not only a problem in developing countries. In Australia approximately 200,000 people are estimated to be illiterate. In the USA, as many as 3 million people were reported to be illiterate in 2002, as published by the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. These are astounding statistics for two of the world’s richest and most well-developed countries. The issues are complex and many of the illiterate people in these populations belong to minority or disadvantaged groups. However, there are some mind-boggling stories where the most unlikely people are revealed to be unable to read. The National Adult Literacy Database of Canada has remarkable stories of people’s battle with illiteracy. Jamie Simon, a school dropout at 16 describes his life-changing experience when he resumed school as an adult. Danny Haines tells of how literacy saved his life.

Most of us in this community are fortunate and cannot even imagine what the life of an illiterate must be like. A glance at the script illustrated above shows you what an open book must look like to someone who is illiterate. If you are reading this blog, consider yourself very lucky…

literacy |ˈlitərəsē, ˈlitrə-| noun
The ability to read and write.
• competence or knowledge in a specified area: wine literacy can't be taught in three hours.
ORIGIN late 19th century: From literate, on the pattern of illiteracy [late Middle English: from Latin litteratus, from littera]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for making me aware of Internatl. Literacy Day. I love the quote you began with as well. I can't imagine my life without reading.