Oct 7th, 2019, 09:13 PM

The Path to Global Literacy - By 2030

By Nicole Pyo
Vision Scrabble Blocks, Pexels, http://alphabet-cube-mission-462353.jpg?itok=4bOjfj71
It’s not as easy as it sounds


Is literacy a right or a privilege? Most people do not think anything about being able to read and write. Think about the last time you ordered a coffee or food at a restaurant in your native language. Were you struggling to understand? Probably not. You were already comfortable stringing together sentences and easily recognized what was in front of you. Most people learn from a young age how to read and write so that when they grow older they are able to integrate into society effectively. Literacy is a human right. Yet, it remains a privilege for the illiterate - most notably those in lower-income countries. As part of their sustainable development goals, and in response to the illiterate crisis, the United Nations announced its campaign in 2016 to raise global education standards by 2030. In other words, their plan was to obtain total literacy among the youth and adult populations by the year 2030.

That was three years ago.

The deadline set by the United Nations, on its current course, is nowhere near ready to be met (though not for lack of effort). Part of the problem might be that global literacy is not a priority agenda item for the world. Part of it is because of the many facets that global literacy brings with it. If all we had to do was send teachers abroad to teach people how to read and write, the illiteracy crises would have been solved years ago. As it turns out, it’s not that simple. There are several factors to consider. Sending teachers to countries is only a fraction of the obstacles we face. I believe that cultures also need to be willing to move forward and see the benefits of literacy in order for the status quo to change. Part of the challenge for women in lower-income countries to be able to become literate is because of the influence of culture and socioeconomic barriers. Also, if more than a century later racial discrimination still exists even with the scale tipping towards equality, how can we expect the global literacy rate to reach 100% in a mere 10 years? The reach for global literacy will require time and effort to tip the status quo.

Now, think about the last time you were in a foreign country where you didn’t speak, read or write any of the language. Was it still easy to recognize the words on the menu or talk to someone who did not speak your native language? For the illiterate of the world, these barriers present an obstacle. Without the tools and the means to be able to learn to become literate, these individuals remain at a disadvantage. We gain confidence and self-esteem with the ability to easily recognize and understand the world around us. We are empowered to think creatively, solve problems, and contribute positively to the world we live in. The ability to read and write opens doors that otherwise may not have been opened. Poverty can be a vicious cycle for the illiterate in that the value of education - learning to read and write - may not be a priority. When it’s not a priority, it becomes ignored. The doors that might have otherwise been opened to pull these individuals out of poverty remain closed.

Lower-income countries are at a particular disadvantage. In Liberia for example, a country damaged by war conflict, education for their children is a much lower priority and less likely to happen. Another challenge that global literacy faces is the lack of qualified and willing teachers. Most notably, in sub-Saharan Africa, 54% of children are without a school to attend.   

By the year 2030, UNESCO reports that the number of children without school places will have dropped from 18 to 14 percent. Literacy is not a right for individuals who face these kinds of challenges. It is a privilege.

Progress is impossible without change. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” I’m inclined to believe that Mr. Shaw is not wrong. Progress may be slow, but in order to move forward, we need to change the way we think. The advancement toward global literacy for all cannot be achieved unless people are willing to see the advantages and respond accordingly. History has taught us that humankind is not at all in a hurry when it comes to changing the minds of stubborn creatures. Global literacy is a multi-faceted challenge that involves many aspects. While we may still face a disparity between the literate and illiterate members of the world, the United Nations has provided the impetus to move us toward closing that gap.