Global Literacy – A Call for Action

Children gather to learn in an alternative setting

Children gather to learn in an alternative setting

In my work at CTL and in my personal life, I have opportunities to travel and work across the globe and into local settings in the developing world, where the daily struggle to live in harmony and productively with a difficult environment is evident at the turn of your head. Through this work, I have come to be more informed about and concerned about the state of human development and the reasons we should all be concerned about it.

In 2000, the United Nations created a set of global development goals called the Millennium Development Goals. These include ending hunger, promoting gender equity, ensuring child health, combating HIV, sustaining the environment, and providing universal education.

Given the increasingly dependent and interconnected nature of regions and countries across the globe, it is no longer possible to maintain the belief here in the US that these goals for the developing world have little to do with us and our daily lives. Additionally, while each alone is a daunting yet admirable goal, the complexity of relationships between each cannot be overstated.

As I read through reports, projects, and projections from UNESCO and various international NGOs (non-governmental organizations), several things become clear. First, in 2010 progress has been made on all fronts, but it is next to impossible that these goals will be met on the 2015 timeline. Second, one underlying issue pervades all other challenges and barriers within and across goals, the key issue within the goal of Universal Education – basic literacy.

We take access to basic education and literacy as a given in this country. Yet, in the developing world access continues to be limited. For example, across the African continent, approximately 40% of children never even enter a school building. This is improving, but reports from UNESCO state that “in order to meet the goal on the African continent, we will have to train 6,000,000 teachers by 2015.” Six million in five years, how do you go about something like this?

The World Bank reports that even limited formal literacy education for girls can impact all other global development goals. Basic literacy education increases future household income by at least 16%, reduces the spread of HIV by more than 50%, and cuts maternal and infant mortality by 25%. All of this can be accomplished by simply teaching people to read, and it costs less per year than US citizens spend on ice cream.

As I write, I realize I have known this information for a long time, and I know that there are educators and policy makers across the globe who have also known this information for a long time. But I still find myself incredulous – that the information, strategies, and capacity is there, yet we fall further and further behind in providing the most basic education to our developing neighbors.

I know we have troubles and challenges on our own shores, and in our own educational system. But I have to believe that we understand, in this increasingly shrinking world, we cannot afford to allow our neighbors around the world to languish without basic life skills and literacy development. I will continue to work, as one person, to make a difference – by promoting and designing literacy programs, working with partners to secure funding and staffing for work in developing areas, and to spread training and schooling across the globe, one teacher and one student at a time.

So, what’s my point? I’m simply asking for each of us to be informed, consider what it means to us, to call on the better angels of our nature, and lend a hand.

For more information on the UN Millennium Development Goals, click this link to End Poverty 2015:

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