1 September 2019 Susannah

Global Literacy

Reading together

The ability to read is, in my view, one of the greatest gifts a child can be given. Sadly, there are still many in the world who are not able to read. UNESCO statistics, covering people of 15 years or over, show that 90% of males can read and write, but only 82.7% of females. Most developed countries have literacy rates of around 99%, but over 75% of the world’s illiterate adults are found in sub-Saharan Africa, and South and West Asia, and there women represent about two thirds of those who have not been taught to read. Fortunately, global literacy rates are increasing. There are big literacy gaps across the generations and as older people who are unable to read die off, world statistics will improve as so many younger people are now being given the chance to be literate.

Did you know that in 1820 only 12% of the world’s population could read and write (though in 1820 it must have been hard to collect accurate data from around the world, I suspect)? In 2016 the global literary rate was 86%. Literacy rates have always been linked with poverty. Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has just over a third of its young people learning to read, while the national literacy rate is only 19%. Things are almost as bad in Southern Sudan and Burkina Faso. At the other end of the scale, North Korea has a reported literacy rate of 100% (but I’ll leave it up to you to decide how accurate Kim Jong Un’s claim might be), followed by Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Azerbaijan.

Every child should be given the gift of reading. In Australia, with a literary rate of 99%, there are still many who cannot read at all, or read very well. Aboriginal children often have poor literacy skills. Many people try to hide their inability to read well (I’ve forgotten my glasses today – can you help me?). A lack of literacy can be utterly debilitating. Imagine not being able to read instructions on your medication, or a recipe, or a safety manual?

There are ways you can help. Read to children you meet, volunteer in local community reading programmes, assist at the local primary school where some children need one-on-one help to get them over the hurdle of learning to read, or contact the Indigenous Literacy Foundation or the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. Many charities, such as the Smith Family, have programmes to improve national literacy.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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