literacy-peace-image John Slifko BlogLiteracy is a human right, a tool for personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.  Traditionally, it has been understood as the ability to read and write. Over time, however, the term’s meaning has been expanded to include the ability to use language, numbers, images and other means to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture.

According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), as society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

However, last year, during International Literacy Day on September 8, 2015, new data from the Institute for Statistics (UIS) revealed that approx. 757 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is the primary source for monitoring international literacy targets associated with Education and All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UIS literacy statistics are considered the standard for benchmarking progress globally and are featured in diverse reports, such as the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the World Development Indicators and the Human Development Report.

According to the UIS website, “By 2015, the international community pledged to reduce adult illiteracy rates by 50% compared to 2000 levels as part of the Education for All (EFA) goals.” Yet, given the recent data and findings, there are still 757 million adults including 115 million youths who cannot read or write a simple sentence. So, what happened?

Educational opportunities depend on literacy.  Americans who need basic literacy instruction also need financial literacy skills. They struggle with everyday budgeting and more complicated tasks like comprehending mortgage documents, which means they’re often the victims of predatory lenders and financial scams. Low literate individuals are also twice as likely to be out of work, contributing to the high rate of unemployment in the U.S. Although many are eager to compete in the 21st century job market, they simply lack the skills and training to do so. ProLiteracy says, while the number of people seeking help keeps growing, overall funding for literacy programs has dropped. Even when we combine all of our government and philanthropic funding, we only have enough resources to help 3 million people

Low literacy is a global crisis that affects all of us.  In today’s tech-centric world, basic literacy skills simply aren’t enough. Adults need computer skills and access to technology to succeed in our society, whether they’re trying to apply for a job online, find accurate health information on the Internet, or simply send an email to their child’s teacher.  

During the past decade, an increasing number of empirical studies by economists, educational researchers, and other social scientists have documented the critical importance of literacy among communities. Furthermore, some research has been able to show the direct correlation to high literacy rates and economic and social success of individual workers, their families, regional economies, and nations. Although there remains an urgent need to do more, I hope this blog post made you a bit more aware.