LONDON - September 8 - Today there will be events in over a hundred countries to celebrate United Nations International Literacy Day.
Sadly it is only on this day each year that we hear about the billion adults who are unable to read and write. Governments concentrate their resources on getting children into school.
With over 100 million children still out of school this is an important effort. But in the process, governments have abandoned generations of adults who never had the chance to go to school.
There is a direct link between the billion adults who are illiterate and the billion people who live on under a dollar a day around the world. As Gorgui Sow of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) commented:
"Without an education you are almost certainly destined to live in poverty. You are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and your children are more likely to die in infancy or grow up malnourished. The effects are passed across generations. If you are a woman without an education you are less likely to send your daughters to school – and you are much more likely to die in childbirth."
Two thirds of the adults who cannot read and write are women.
The only way to break this cycle is to invest in adult literacy. Unfortunately research by the Global Campaign for Education shows that there has been almost no significant investment in adult literacy programmes in the past two decades.
David Archer, head of education at ActionAid and author of the GCE report Writing the Wrongs: International Benchmarks on Adult Literacy commented:
"Governments across Africa , Asia and Latin America have ignored adult literacy for too long and international donors have done the same. Almost no aid goes to support adult literacy. Yet the Global Campaign for Education has shown how literacy is an essential catalyst for development and for democracy. The outrageous lack of action by governments is a violation of human rights on a global scale."
"Writing the Wrongs" is based on the largest ever survey of effective literacy programmes, involving people in 49 countries. It shows that there is now global consensus on how best to invest in adult literacy. It identifies 12 simple benchmarks that distinguish successful programmes. Some of the core insights include:
- Governments need to take the lead but work closely with others.
- Literacy should be seen as a continuous process (there is no magic line that is suddenly crossed)
- Literacy teachers should be paid and should be given professional training;
- Participatory methods of teaching are essential, so that everything taught is relevant to the real lives of learners.
- Good quality programmes cost between $50 and $100 per learner per year and should run for at least three years.
- Governments should invest at least 3% of their national education budgets in adult literacy programmes.
Lucia Fry, Coordinator of GCE commented:
"There can be no more excuses. We know what works and we know that it can be afforded. Now all we need is the political will to make this investment. The global community cannot continue to ignore the right to education of a billion adults."