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Literacy: A Powerful Tool for Bettering Society
A Powerful Tool for Bettering Society
Today’s world is global, information-based, fast-paced and highly technological. If we, as individual human beings, and collectively, as societies, are going to survive and thrive today and in the future, we must be equipped with the necessary skills. Chief among these is literacy: to be able to read, write, understand and communicate with others through the written word.
Literacy plays a substantial role in the economic development of a nation. A literate nation produces entrepreneurs, new enterprises, employment opportunities, business transactions, tax revenues, and reduced unemployment. A good example of the role of literacy can be found in China and India, where in both cases the literacy rates of their populations rose, leading to growing business development, employment, higher salaries and an improved standard of living. According to a National Adult Literacy Survey in the US, illiteracy costs more than $17 billion per year from loss tax revenues, and the costs of social, health and crime-related programs and institutions.
A report titled, “Adult and Youth Literacy, National, Regional and Global Trends, 1985-2015” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published in 2013 focused on 151 countries, from eight regions of the world: Arab states, central Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Western Europe, South and West Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Briefly, it found the following: The global adult literacy rate in 2011, aged 15 and above, was 84%. This means that in 2011, 774 million adults were illiterate. UNESCO anticipates an increase in literacy rates by 2015 in virtually every region covered in the report, except for Central and Eastern Europe, where literacy seems to be headed toward a drop of one-half a percentage point.
Interestingly, the data show that in regions where there has been the most improvement in literacy, it is due to the rising literacy rates of its female population. Nevertheless, the report projects that in 2015, only three regions will experience gender equality vis-à-vis literacy rates: Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Youth literacy rates were better, overall, yet 123 million young people lacked literacy skills in 2011. The most illiterate youth were in South and West Asia, and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide, 61% of illiterate young people were female.
The stark reality of approximately 774 million illiterate adults and around 123 million illiterate youth—the world’s future leaders—cannot be ignored. Fortunately many organizations are working throughout the world to improve literacy rates and in so doing, open pathways for them to a better future.
Parents Reading Books to Children
How often do you read books to your children?
LitWorld - Non-profit Literacy Organization
For instance, LitWorld is a non-profit literacy organization headquartered in New York. “Literacy is the foundation for emotional and physical well-being, intellectual growth, and economic security.” Litworld aims to reach the 250M children who cannot read or write. Founder and Executive Director, Pam Allyn, notes that 2013 was a very difficult year for children throughout the world. There were wars, financial market collapses, and natural disasters. More than 16M children are living in poverty in the US, and more than 400M throughout the world. In the US, the number of children who are homeless has reached more than 1,168,000. She cites a UNESCO report that found that for every dollar spent on education, there is a return of $10-$15 in economic growth. This means that not being able to read or write is not just a personal loss - it is a loss for all of society. LitWorld’s work is built upon a foundation of research that shows that children gain literacy skills the most easily when they are writing and telling their own stories.
The Litworld Global Literacy Movement includes such innovative programs as:
Innovation Hubs which are literacy resource centers in local communities. The Hubs provide learning spaces and libraries for educational programming and leadership training. Hubs are currently in New York City (Harlem), USA, Kibera, Kenya, Manila, Philippines, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Provides outlets for storytelling and teaches and guides children on how to frame and write the stories of their lives—through reading, writing and listening. LitClubs is giving children the literacy skills, as well as other core strengths, that will help them to succeed in the world.
SHAREinAfrica (Shannon’s After-School Reading Exchange) began in 2008 when its founder, Shannon McNamara made plans for traveling to Africa. Upon learning of the significant gender bias against girls there, she collected school supplies, laptop computers and books and, with her family, delivered everything to Tanzania, turning a decrepit classroom into a modern library. SHAREinAfrica focuses on empowering girls in Africa through equal access to quality education. It is building libraries, running after-school reading programs, and donating school supplies, laptop computers, electricity and, in some cases, solar power.
Intel’s Literacy Program
“Empowering Girls and Women through Education and Technology,” acknowledges that 40 years of investment in technology and innovation has not yet closed the technological knowledge gap between females and males. Intel cites that globally 66M girls are not in school; there is almost a 25% gender gap on the Internet; and two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterate population is women. Intel believes that literacy development programs must include technology. Programs such as Intel Learn and Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, for instance, focus on bringing technology, scholarship and community learning programs to build the leaders of tomorrow. Intel Easy Steps provides training in digital literacy, business skills, and entrepreneurship. Intel Teach is training teachers how to integrate technology into their lesson plans.
An educated and skilled workforce is the paramount ingredient in the economic, social and political stability and health of a nation. Literacy is one of the most powerful tools a society has for reducing poverty and social/political instability. There is a great deal of work to be done. But, thankfully, there are many dedicated individuals and organizations pursuing the mission of eradicating illiteracy throughout the world. The product of their work will help to ensure a strong future for all of us.
More About the Author - Angela Chao
- Angela Chao | CrunchBase Profile
Angela Chao's profile on Crunchbase
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Writing by and about Angela Chao
- Guest Post: Notable Female Harvard Grads: Angela Chao, Alexa von Tobel and AslaugMagnusdottir - Smal
Article about Angela Chao
- HBS Alum Series: Q&A With Ms. Angela Chao, Class of 2001, Section E | The Harbus
Interview with Angela on Harvard Business School Alumni Magazine
- Chao Family
Information page about the Chao family members: Angela Chao, Dr. James S.C. Chao, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, Hon. Elaine L. Chao and other family members