How important is Literacy?

Earlier this week it was International Literacy Day.  What is it all about?

It was started in 1966 by the UNESCO to remind people of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and society.

Adult literacy rate refers to the percentage of people aged 15 and above, who can read and write with understanding, a short simple statement about their everyday life. 

Being literate can also mean more than being able to read and write. It can also mean you are fluent in a field, e.g. you might be ‘computer literate.’

Can you imagine not being able to read or write?

Lacking the skills to read or write is a huge disadvantage for people.  Not only does it enrich our lives, but also allows people the opportunity to develop skills to provide for themselves and their families.

I have always read books, from a young child when my mother taught me to read and write before I went to school.

By the time I was a young teen, I was reading adult books, sometimes on themes which shocked my parents, because they didn’t think I should be exposed to certain things. 

The ability to read, keeping up with the news and being exposed to the world through a range of both fiction and non-fiction was an enlightening opportunity, which would have been lost had I not had the skill to read.

In the same way, being able to converse in written form is important too. 

Reading and writing also impacts on your ability to communicate verbally to others, as you build your vocabulary.

Literacy rates of the world.

According to UNESCO, even though literacy rates have risen over the last fifty years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world. Sadly, most of these are women.

Literacy rates are rising from generation to the next, however,1 in 5 children in the UK, left primary school in 2018 unable to read or write properly.

The adult literacy rate for the UK (2018) was 99%, but despite that, we only ranked 17thamong the 34, OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

In response, in 2018, Michael Rosen, poet and Children’s Laureate 2007 – 2009, made the best suggestion yet – give every child a library ticket.  Which would work, if there is still a library in the area in which they live!

Cuba has a higher literacy rate than we do, at 99.7%. Fidel Castro eradicated illiteracy in the 1960’s.

We spend 5.5% of our GDP on education. Cuba spends !2.8% on theirs. 

Brow-beating teachers, and pushing children through more and more test, won’t necessarily raise literacy rates!

Children need to have easy access to libraries and parents need to make time to read with their children, to encourage them to build their enjoyment of reading.

It is quite rare to see a book shelf in homes these days.

Language and Literacy

The two go together. In children’s early development, being able to make sounds, pronounce letter sounds and understand the relationship between letters and sounds, all go towards building literacy skills.

Language also alters over time.  It changes across social groups, varies within generations, within local areas where you have colloquial differences, and new words are borrowed or invented. The meaning of words can change, and some words disappear.

Teenagers have, and have always had their own language; words they use as their own, and don’t expect to hear adults use.  This is nothing new, but in terms of modern society, there are aspects of language where the use of specific words belongs to one subgroup, and people outside of that group may not understand what is being said.

Older generations often comment that language has ‘gone downhill’, because they don’t understand what younger people are saying.  You rarely hear older people comment that the younger generation have improved language! 

When it comes to business, the use of language depends on the demographic of your clients; what your business is, and how you want to be perceived professionally. Some people are able move between the use of different language for the setting in which they find themselves, which is a great asset.

For some, this freedom is just too much. They are pedantic about grammar, punctuation and language use in writing, but may have to accept that the world of writing, like the world of music is open to a variety of interpretations.

Recently asked to write a poem for a prompt about the tongue, I rather flippantly wrote the following – something I find slightly annoying; pronunciation.

What I didn’t manage to get into the poem is my annoyance when people don’t pronounce “H’ correctly.  It is Aitch!  There is no ‘H’ at the front.  I get particularly wound-up when, in networking, I hear people in HR referring to Haitch R! 

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.”

Lawrence Clark Powell 

(US librarian, literary critic and author)