On 26 October 1966, UNESCO declared 8 September as International Literacy Day, and it started being celebrated the next year. This day was made to remind others about the challenges people with little or no literacy skills have to face every single day of their lives. It is also a moment to have a real discussion about the strategies countries with a low percentage of literacy should adopt.
We can discover in UNESCO’s “Global Monitoring Report on Education for All (2006)” that “the regions with the lowest literacy rates are sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia, and the Arab States, all with literacy rates around only 60%”. It is concerning considering that the global literacy rate for adults (15+) is 86.3%. Moreover, 771 million adults in the world are illiterate and 75% of them can be found in these regions. Many countries from these regions are faced with extreme poverty, which is one of the reasons why literacy rates are so low. Another reason might be the prejudice against women, considering that two-thirds of all illiterate adults around the world are women. The countries with the lowest literacy rates are South Sudan (27%), Afghanistan (28.1%), Burkina Faso (28.7%), and Niger (28.7%).
While the rates seemed to improve over the years, the current pandemic stalled the efforts made before. According to UNESCO, “40% of the poorest countries failed to support learners at risk during the COVID-19 crisis”. In addition, schools closed their doors in more than 190 countries, restricting access to education for 1.27 billion children and young people. Teachers have also been affected by the changes in their working conditions. Many students and teachers can’t afford or don’t know how to use the technology necessary for online schooling. Moreover, people with no or low literacy skills can’t access information about health and preventive measures that easily.
Ways to help
You may feel as if this issue is too big for you to do anything. Well, there are some ways you can get involved and help people in need:
You don’t need a lot of money to help. You can donate from your own free time and volunteer at your local library. There is always a need for volunteers, and you can have fun doing that as well! Many libraries organize programs where you can either read stories to children or help them with their homework.
Donate to charity
You can also choose to spare some money to a charity that wants to decrease the illiteracy rates. You can donate to The World Literacy Foundation’s website. Think about it: the money you spend every day on a cup of coffee could help a child or an adult to access the education they need to live a normal life.
Social media has become the best way to reach a large number of people, no matter where you are from. Recently, every year there is a theme associated with International Literacy Day. Some examples are:
- 2006: “Literacy Sustains Development.”
- 2013: “Literacies for the 21st Century.”
- 2016: “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.”
- 2017: “Literacy in a Digital World.”
- 2019: “Literacy and Multilingualism.”
This year’s theme is “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”, and its purpose is to highlight the role of educators and the changes in the learning methods used in this period. Use the hashtag #ILD2020, and raise awareness about this ongoing issue. If you have a personal story on this topic, share it with others, and show the world why literacy is a tool of empowering individuals.
Buy a book for a stranger
For people who live every day on a minimum amount of money, buying a book might be considered a luxury. You can help these people by buying them a book. If you want to make more space on your shelf, and part with books that you’ve already read, you can donate them to someone in need or a library.
Reading and writing are things that many of us are doing without acknowledging them. But for others, there is an ongoing struggle. Literacy shouldn’t be only for privileged people. Literacy is a matter of dignity and human rights. Everyone should have access to the proper tools to enjoy life at its fullest.
If you want to read our article about World Youth Day, please check it here.