Literacy is imperative for everyday life. It is necessary to navigate the world. To make informed decisions, fill out a job application, and decipher the constant and broad range of information you receive each day, you need to read. Endless and clashing stories from the news and through friends are confusing and overwhelming. Doing research on your own and educating yourself on the truth is to become free from other people’s opinions. Your own, educated opinion becomes clear. Your Self is empowered. There is no depth of learning without being able to read.
For a little one to hear Dr. Suess, read to them for the first time, for a child to escape into A Wrinkle in Time, and a parent to drive them to school, reading is essential. Everyone who reads this article takes from what being literate gives. It was what helped me escape when things were dismal at best. To read is the best form of escapism. You learn as you get away from the world around you at the same time as learn about it. Different worlds come to life; you are exposed to various histories and cultures through reading. Even if you’re “not a reader” of books, you read. You can understand what I am writing. And you take it as a given. To you, being literate probably feels more like a right and less like a privilege. It is a right.
Learning is treated as a privilege. Getting an education is treated as a privilege. Having a college education is beginning to be fictional. And it shouldn’t be. I was happy to be able to sit in on UNESCO’s Literacy in Action summit on Tuesday. That’s right; I was celebrating International Literacy Day by attending a webinar at 4:30 am. Groggy though I was, I heard some disturbing news about the state of education and literacy throughout the world. And, yes, happy to be up that early in the morning listening to it. Literacy = Knowledge and Power. This is especially true for the most underrepresented population of the world, young women. For, how can we educate and empower them to influence the world around them, if they can’t read.
UNESCO’s mission and message is that literacy IS a Right and not the privilege it is treated as. Reading SHOULD be a Right. That literacy is a basic human right. Yet, 773 million adults lack the necessary skills for literacy, over 60% of them are women. Six hundred seventeen million children do not meet the minimum requirements for literacy and mathematics. 15% of the world is illiterate. Over 60% of non-literate people are women and children.
UNESCO advocates for empowerment through education. Things that young women and men strive to be are unreachable and getting to be even more so. This is especially true for young women in impoverished countries who cannot make it to school under the best circumstances. Without literacy, there couldn’t be women as leaders, doctors, lawyers, or civil rights activists.
In fact, when the pandemic hit, 91 percent of students and 63,000,000 teachers around the world were affected. Literacy programs have come to a dead stop. Education and literacy for .adults were never included in the educational plan of shut down at all.The education canyon (there is no more education “gap”) is widening exponentially each moment that we don’t help.
The theme of UNESCO’s summit this year was “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”. People in developing countries all over the world are feeling the effects of this pandemic. Schools closed down affecting people around the globe. And true to form, the populations that have it worst in the world are the impoverished people in the Middle East and Western Africans, especially Women.
In Western Africa, girls and women have lacked education for centuries. Via sexism, SGBV (far more children and young girls have been victims since the pandemic), lack of school resources, and lack of menstrual products, women are denied literacy. Now, during the COVID crisis, the few children who used to have the opportunity are going with no school. Many governments are trying to enable children by making lessons available via television and radio. There are no teachers available to them. There are no assignments to be turned in. In the great majority of homes, there is not a television nor a radio. This leaves even fewer children with education than before.
Ms. Rita Bissoonauth, Head of Mission, International Centre for Girls and Women’s Education in Africa, represented the African Union at the summit. She informed and warned viewers of the situation girls and young women face there, especially in western Africa where the youth and adult literacy rate is, on average, less 50%. Young women face difficulties both in attending school at home and in returning to school when it opens again. Pregnancy due to SGBV because men are out of work, discouragement by parents, and personal despair at missing so much school are among them. She urged panelists to keep this global threat to women in mind. She encouraged advocacy, awareness, and providing resources for teaching resources in Africa.
As bad as the education gap was before COVID-19, it is only going to get worse unless something is done via grassroots movements and Non-Profit Organizations, volunteers and civilians. Young women and girls across the world need more education, less stigma, and more supplies to get to school. More literacy means more empowered women and girls, and more women in leadership positions.
The countries that are impoverished will become infinitely less so. Literacy builds opportunities; It means more jobs and higher education for women. Then, there will be a chance for the true equality we need in literacy to improve life and empowerment to excel even more.
International Literacy Day was on Tuesday. In my perfectionism, especially at research I started this article Tuesday and am posting today. There have been numerous publications by UNESCO in response to the summit already.
To Educate Yourself:
UNESCO Literacy Day 2020 Materials
Stella's Girls offers FREE tutoring and mentoring to all children from 3rd-12th grades. This began last year, when schools started shutting down to help women and parents make sure children were getting the education and support they needed.
The program started again this year, in attempt to ease the stress of children who are out of school and alleviate some of the pressure everyone is going through.
My name is Jamie. I'm blessed to be the Creative Content Manager for Stella's Girls, Inc. where our mission is to empower young women to become leaders and social advocates in their communities.