International Literacy Day

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Reading and writing are two skills I value more than any other. Without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today. As you will have seen from the last month or two of blogs, I love to read and I have spent a good portion of my life either reading or being read to. I am also a keen writer, these blogs are merely one aspect of my writing skill and I pride myself in my ability to form sentences without mistaking their for there, your for you’re or to for too.

There are many people in this country, in this world, in fact, who have not been afforded the same privilidge. Children and young people from home where reading isn’t appreciated and academic ability isn’t fostered are unlikely to grow up with the same love of reading that someone from a family who spends time reading together. Schools try their best but schools aren’t everything and unfortunately too few children slip through the net.

A few years ago I spent a year working with some children in a school. I volunteered with an organisation called Beanstalk (who were then known as Volunteer Reading Help). Every week, twice a week, I would visit the same school (my old primary school, as it turned out) and the same three children. Over that period of time I helped them to read, I encouraged them to continue reading books they enjoyed (even if that meant reading the same book about cars over and over again) and we played a few games. The point of the one-to-one sessions was that each child was given the support to read that they can’t always get in a classroom full of other children. I cherish the time I spent with those four children (I ended up with a fourth child because one was too busy with another activity) and I hope that my support and the time I gave them helped them.

Today is International Literacy Day. The United Nations department in charge of education states that literacy is “a right and a foundation for lifelong learning, better well-being and livelihoods” and I agree with them. If you learn to read and write to a suitable standard then you will get by in life far better than someone who never learns enough.

Think about all of the situations in life where reading and writing are important.

Job applications are the main way to gain employment in many societies, or at least the ability to create a CV/resume. Without literacy a child may struggle in later life to gain employment.

Helping children with homework can only be harder if you yourself haven’t had the right level of education. The older a child gets the harder it can be, which is inevitable. But how can anyone be expected to listen to their child read and help them with mistakes if they can’t even read themselves? Not only does that make it harder to support the child, but that parent may also be too embarrassed to do so.

Food labelling may be colour coded on occasion, but there is also a lot of information on produce which we need to be able to read in order to understand if a product is good for us. How can a person be expected to make informed choices about food when they can’t even read the labels?

In less developed countries the issue is probably far greater. According to the UN, a parent who is literate is more likely to send their child to school. This is something that we almost take for granted in developed countries, but it’s a very important thing to remember. Not everyone is even given the opportunity to learn, to get that education, and yet some people in the UK throw it away.

Some more important facts for you from the UN department UNESCO:

There are 774 million adults who are illiterate, that’s anyone over the age 15. Two thirds of these people are women. It means that they have problems with basic tasks such as filling out forms, reading prescriptions and sending text messages. Of those aged 15-24, 123 million are illiterate, and again, two thirds of these are women. The time and effort it takes to learn how to read in adulthood is far greater, especially for poor women who have other, more important things to be doing with their time, such as bringing up children and working to feed them.

Out of the 76 million young women who are illiterate, 56 million of them live in just nine countries. The majority are in India, whilst there are many in countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt and Burkino Faso.

It is expected that in the future there will be 57 million out of school children, one in two will be from sub-Saharan Africa, half will either have never set foot in a school or dropped out early/started late. The lives these people will lead will involve poverty, inequality and unstable, poorly paid jobs.

Literacy isn’t just a problem we face in developed countries, it’s a problem that’s faced more widely all over the world. Sometimes I think of literacy and I think of those children I helped to support with their reading, but those children were okay. They were getting an education and they were learning these skills, maybe they were struggling at 8, but they were being taught the building blocks to a better future once they leave school.

Many more children across the globe are not as lucky as the children that Beanstalk help. They are faced with poverty, barriers to educations and a future that doesn’t look any better at 16 than it did when they were 5.

So next time you read something, even this blog, remember how lucky you are to not only be blessed with the ability to read and write, but with the opportunity to have a better life because you can.

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