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Around 250 million children around the world are at risk of being illiterate, while approximately 750 million teens and adults can neither read nor write. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) points out how this can cause illiterate, low-literate, and low-skilled children and adults to be excluded from their own communities.
It is appalling that around one billion people are struggling with illiteracy. The developed world is obsessed with smart cities, yet we can’t even ensure a smart global population. This increasingly tech-dependent, digitised, and fast-changing planet seems to have an insatiable thirst for development, yet we’re leaving millions of people in the dust. And it’s not just about reading and writing. Literacy is how the 7.2 billion people of the world interpret, develop, create, identify, and acquire knowledge. Beyond its traditional definition, literacy encompasses all the skills related to counting, understanding, critical thinking, and communication. If one billion or more than 10% of the global population can’t be considered literate – and therefore unable to fully participate in modern society at large – then where is all this global development headed? Can the developed world still be considered truly developed if we’re excluding millions of people on our way to amassing resources and perfecting our industries?
Illiteracy is Everywhere
Before you conclude that illiteracy is just a problem for the world’s poorest countries, that’s not exactly the case. The first world is not exempt from the global literacy crisis. In fact, The Independent reveals that out of the 23 nations that comprise the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is made up of some of the planet’s richest nations, the UK ranks 23rd in teenage literacy. Despite this fact, school library services continue to face disproportionate cuts in the UK, which the Library and Information Association reports is why we’ve lost an estimated 30% of our school librarian workforce.
Meanwhile, in the US, approximately 32 million adults can’t read. And perhaps even more alarming is how the OECD found that 50% of American adults – although mostly literate – are unable to read books written at an eighth-grade level. Keep in mind that these examples of the global illiteracy crisis are in the English-speaking first world, and not in third world countries which obviously have way larger problems with illiteracy. While budget constraints are arguably to blame for illiteracy in the world’s most developed nations, this in no way compares to the obstacles to literacy brought by poverty and war.
International Efforts Against Illiteracy
The alarming rates of illiteracy across the globe have not been entirely unheard. Plenty of well-organised charities have shown their deep commitment in the collective effort to educate the world’s most unfortunate children and adults. In short, if you’re concerned about global illiteracy – and would like to volunteer your time to combat it – there’s no shortage of organisations that can put your valuable efforts and resources to good use. Most charities hold easy to participate events that are in aid of improving living and educational standards across the world. Non-profit organisation Save the Children are running their Christmas Jumper Day campaign to help support child education in some of the poorest communities worldwide. The event makes use of the popular English tradition of Christmas jumpers while asking for a modest donation of £2 per person. The profits will go directly to the welfare and education of high-risk children stuck in war-torn areas across the globe.
The good news is that reading is considered a top priority by some charities. Bustle points to Book Aid International, a global UK-based charity that’s responsible for the now popular charity event called World Book Day. Every year, Book Aid International provides a million brand new books to more than 3,000 libraries across the world, most of which are in Africa. They also have a small but significant literacy project brewing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And of course, no list of large-scale literacy-focused charities would be incomplete without talking about the World Literacy Foundation. As one of the biggest charity organisations on the planet, World Literacy Foundation is currently focused on a project aimed at eliminating illiteracy across 25 different countries.
In short, although global illiteracy remains a problem, much of the planet’s collective resources and efforts are already moving towards its elimination. In fact, historically speaking, Our World in Data reveals that global literacy rates have been soaring since the middle of the 1800s. Compared to 1870 when only approximately 18% of the global population was literate, the current global literacy rate of around 85% is for sure a massive step in the right direction. But while these numbers seem actually hopeful, the fact remains that in this day and age, there are still a billion children and adults who are still illiterate.
Illiteracy shouldn’t be a problem that’s reserved for charity. Literacy directly affects livelihood, socio-economic standing, and political power. Your literacy determines your place in the world. If the world at large is serious about creating equal opportunities for everyone, one of the keys to doing just that is through abolishing illiteracy by petitioning those in power to do more.