8 September 2016. International Literacy Day

After 50 years where do we stand?

In 1965 UNESCO declared September 8 to be International Literacy Day with the aim to raise awareness and increase accessibility to education in developing nations.

Today, UNESCO is celebrating under the banner “Reading the Past, Writing the Future” to mark the 50th anniversary.

According to literacy data 2016 released by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), after 50 years there are still 758 million adults (15 years and older) who cannot read or write. Approximately two-thirds of whom are females, and there are still many more illiterate young people of both genders too.

The good news is that since 2000, literacy among youth (aged 15 to 24 years) has risen steadily to 91% with better access to schooling and compulsory education in most countries. However, a lot more effort is required in sub-Saharan African and South and West Asia, where youth literacy rates are still just 71% and 84% respectively. For young women in sub-Saharan Africa, the rate remains dismally low at 65%.

world literacy map 2014

Many schools are still deprived of basic facilities like water, electricity and toilets. For example in 2014, 61.3% of schools in Djibouti had no toilet facilities at all.

In Sub-Saharan Africa,  the data show that only 76.2% of boys and 65.5% girls receive education.

girls in education Girls face particular challenges when it comes to education, from discrimination and social stigma, to caregiving duties and household responsibilities. Often, girls who should be in school are forced to take on childcare or expected to look after sick relatives. In many parts of the world, education is simply not considered part of a woman’s lot in life, or has value only as far as it boosts marriageability.

Incentives such as free school meals are provided in low income countries to enrol more children in educational activities, for many this is the only meal they will get in the day.

Data from 2011 show that over 57 million children reside in conflict-affected countries deprived of basic schooling, 28.5 million being primary school children and over half of them girls. The impact of conflict on educational opportunities can therefore not be overstated.

In 2012, there were more than 3,600 documented attacks on educational facilities, including violence, torture and intimidation against children and teachers, resulting in death or grave injuries, the shelling and bombing of schools and the recruitment of school-aged children by armed groups.

Since the start of the Syria conflict, 3,900 schools have either been destroyed, damaged or are being occupied for purposes other than education.

The main sufferers of wars are children. Millions of these are forced to spend their entire childhood in camps and other temporary shelters, and many are subsequently forced into illegal activities of prostitution and labour.

 All children have a right to education. Promoting education for girls needs additional advocacy.

 Confucius once said:

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”

Reference: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)