The importance of literacy for the entire human nation cannot be stressed enough. Unfortunately, I cannot help but feel that for many people, especially young people and those blessed enough to live in ‘first world’ countries, there is not enough appreciation of the immense importance that literacy has for the world community. UNESCO sums up beautifully the importance of literacy for all:
Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.
Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. There are good reasons why literacy is at the core of Education for All (EFA).
A good quality basic education equips pupils with 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.
Literacy and education: these two go hand in hand in creating a better life for every single individual, community and nation. Yet in countries like UK and the USA we tend in general not to truly appreciate the grave problems that illiteracy can cause people, communities and nations. We are lucky here in the UK, we have an excellent education system (well, relatively) that literacy amongst our children and adults, that is furthermore free up to 16 years of age, and there is such a lack of appreciation for what we have.
You will read many reports and blog posts about the need to promote literacy in poorer countries, and rightly so, but here I want to focus for a minute on the Western World. Literacy amongst youngsters is appalling these days, they have less respect for education and are not benefiting as much as they could from the education they receive up to the age of 16. Now, many of you will start to think of the problems with the education system, and believe me I am right there with you. But you know what I think? If some of those economically less developed states in Africa and Asia had even half the resources we had, they would make a whole lot more out of it. I have met so many people who have come to London from abroad to study and have told me how disappointed they were at the attitude to education. They were sent here by their families to get a better education with the best resources, but are forced to admit that the attitude towards education and the relevant achievements (relevant to the resources they have) are higher back in their own, often poorer, states. So, while the education system may be far from its best, can we all here say that we honestly believe that children and young people are making the most of what they do have, of that which is available to them? I am amongst those young people, and having just left the education system I have to admit that we are not, and it is a mighty shame when we think of all those billions out there who, for one reason or another, don’t even have the option to be educated as we can.
Literacy is important for more than just financial gains. Literacy and education means promoting tolerance, understanding and peace, becoming better people and understanding ourselves better in order to understand others. Many of the atrocious occurrences of recent years have been in part due to uneducated people being led astray by those who have the education and knowledge but are able to manipulate it and influence the uneducated. Propaganda, moral panics, conspiracy theories, conspiracies themselves and social control: all of these are at their best when the masses are uneducated. So we must become educated, and a literate society is the first, and perhaps the most important, step towards that goal.
The problem of illiteracy is not exclusive to the poorer regions of the world; it is right here in Europe, in the Western world in general, too. It is a problem for all, and if we allow the current trends of low educational achievement to continue, it is going to rise at an alarming rate for the following generations. Knowing how to read is not enough either, because as UNESCO has pointed out, literacy is related to education. We must ensure that our children, but adults too, can read and DO read. Educate yourself, expand your mind. You will have the power to analyse your thought processes, explore new ways of understanding the world.
If ignorance is bliss, I’d gladly be a grumpy old goat for the rest of my life, because I could not be more grateful for the educational opportunities I have had and the knowledge I have gained, especially on a day like today knowing that 1 in 5 people do not, and may never, have those same opportunities.
I don’t want to bore you all, so I leave you with this final plea. Children and young people, please do not take what you have for granted and don’t wait until you are old to realise the blessing you have in education. Adults, be responsible for those under your care, before you complain about what you do not have, maximise on what you do and help the next generation to do so. For those who can read and get an education, do so. Share your gift, too, and let those who cannot read know that it is never too late.
Happy International Literacy Day!