In Ireland, one in six adults struggles to read and understand basic daily messages: leaflets, bus timetables, medicine instructions. In response, the Irish marked International Literacy Day, September 8, with a conference in Dublin titled “Literacy Matters: Challenges and Solutions for Communicating Effectively with the Public.” (1)
Established by UNESCO (the United Nation’s Specialized Agency for Education) in 1966, International Literacy Day is celebrated by different peoples in different ways. One thing they all shared was the 2018 theme of blending literacy with skills development.
The celebrations stretched across the hemispheres. Here in the U.S. the Jonesboro Public Library in Jonesboro, Arkansas hosted a family storytime including a read aloud, flannel story and music. Following the storytime, children could play in centers set up to encourage specific skills - a sensory spelling center, kinesthetic sand making and color sorting games. (1)
On the other side of the globe in Amritsar, India, college students competed in quizzes, essay writing and a debate, all live-streamed on Facebook. They also organized a social awareness campaign for local citizens.(1)
In Hamburg, Germany, an adult panel discussion took place. Participants focused on the meaning of illiteracy and how it influences a person’s education, career, and daily life. (1)
In Kingston, Jamaica, dignitaries including the country’s poet laureate joined in a morning Read-In .(1)
In 1820 only 12 % of the world’s population was literate. Two centuries later, 83% are literate. (2) We are moving in the right direction, so why the worries?
For starters, literacy is not developed on an even playing field. Of the 750 million people who cannot read or write, two-thirds are women. Also, the largest chunks of illiterate populaces are found in the poorest of countries. (1)
Also important to acknowledge, we are in an increasingly digitized and globalized world, a world where reading is more important than ever. The 192 million unemployed individuals are a vulnerable population in need of both literacy training and skills development.
Let’s step back for a minute and take a look at a brief history of literacy. The earliest forms of written communication are believed to have taken place between 3,500 and 3,000 B.C. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that book production steadily grew as did literacy among the population in the Western World. In the 19th and 20th centuries, literacy rates accelerated in 1st world countries, particularly after the middle of the 20th century when an expansion of basic education occurred. (2)
It is improvement in basic education that will hopefully lead countries such as Tanzania on this same trajectory. Sub-saharan Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world. It is no surprise that the region’s literacy rates are among the lowest. Though Tanzania outpaces some in this region, the country strives to continue improving. It has a current literacy rate of 77.9%, with roughly 83% of males and 73% of females able to read and write. (3)
International Literacy Day reminds us how far our global community has come, but also the inequities and gaps that still exist.