Building Sustainable and Peaceful Societies
Dr. Parveen Kumar
‘Literacy is not a luxury; it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens.’ These words of former president of United States, Mr. Bill Clinton back in 1994 are very apt and relevant. It has been rightly said to be the road to human progress and the means through which every man, women and child can realize his or her full potential. It is critical to economic development of a nation as well as well being of individual and community. A high literacy rate of a country gets reflected in various other human development indices. Literacy has traditionally been thought of as reading and writing, but it is more than that. What exactly is literacy? Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines literacy as ‘the quality or state of being literate: educated…able to read and write.’ It is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Alberta Education defines literacy as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living. Literacy skills refer to all the skills needed for reading and writing. They include such things as awareness of the sounds of language, awareness of print, and the relationship between letters and sounds. Other literacy skills include vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension. Given the importance of literacy in creating just and fair societies, Sep. 08 every year is being celebrated as International Literacy Day all across the globe.
History of International Literacy Day (ILD): This world celebrates ‘International Literacy Day’ every year on September 8. This day was declared as the International Literacy Day by United Nations Educational Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its 14th General Conference which was held on October 26, 1966. Since 1967, International Literacy Day (ILD) celebrations have taken place annually around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.
Theme of ILD for 2023: This year the theme for this globally important day is Promoting Literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies. Literacy is central to the creation of such societies, while progress in other areas of development contributes to generating interest and motivation of people to acquire, use, and further develop their literacy and numeracy skills. The world today is focused on meeting the targets as envisaged in Sustainable Development Goals SDG 2023. This theme for the year 2023 gives us an opportunity to join efforts to accelerate progress towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on education and lifelong learning and to reflect on the role of literacy in building more inclusive, peaceful, just, and sustainable societies. In doing so, it will embrace the reciprocal relations between literacy and other areas of development:
Literacy Rate Statistics: United Nations consider literacy as a basic human right. The global literacy rate for women is 81%, compared to 89% for men and 63% of all illiterates are female. There are still approximately 773 million people in the world who cannot read which makes one out of every seven person illiterate. Burkina Faso with a literacy rate of 12.8% is the country with the lowest literacy rate in the world. Not just developing or under-developed countries but many developed countries are also facing the problem of illiteracy. India currently has the largest population of illiterate adults in the world with 287 million. This is 37 per cent of the global total. Post independence the country has made remarkable progress in improving the literacy rate. The Indian literacy rate has jumped from 40.76% in 1940 to 77.70% (2021 and 2022). And this weightage is achieved after a very long period of reforms and policies. At the national level, male literacy stands at 84.70%, while female literacy stands at 70.30%. According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21 (NFHS-5), adult women (aged 15-49) have a literacy rate of 71.5%, while adult men (aged 15-49) have a literacy rate of 87.4%. Kerala is the most literate state with a literacy rate of 96.2 per cent while Bihar is the state with lowest literacy rate. The top ten states in India in terms of education are Kerala, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Haryana and Gujarat.
Literacy and Development: Many factors contribute to the development of a Nation and literacy is the most important of them. Literacy provides a platform to the individuals for their personal development only after which they can contribute towards the development of nation. Literacy is an essential tool for the empowerment of citizens. Literacy is directly related to development. When people will be more educated they will gain more knowledge and understand best things for them. The human capital will increase as a result the GDP of that country will increase. Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive.
The Corona pandemic a couple of years back further deteriorated the literacy levels all over the globe. To contain the spread of the pandemic and given the highly infectious nature of the virus, many governments were forced to shut down their educational institutions. Schools were closed down in more than 190 countries. Studies reveal that it disrupted the education of 1.27 billion children and youth. It also affected 63 million primary and secondary teachers in about 165 countries. During Covid-19, in many countries, adult literacy programmes were absent in the initial education response plans, so the majority of adult literacy programmes that did exist were suspended with just a few courses continuing virtually, through TV and radio, or in open air spaces. But, the literacy cannot wait for anything.
The day reminds us of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and nations and also highlights the necessary requirements to help build more literate societies around the world ILD 2023 will be celebrated at the global, regional, country and local levels across the world. At the global level, a conference will be organized in person and online on Friday, 8 September 2023, in Paris, France. This year International Literacy Day (ILD) calls upon the teachers and adult literacy educators to reflect on and discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond. The Day also gives us an opportunity to analyze the role of educators, as well as effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning. We can also contribute to beating this stigma of illiteracy from our society by involving ourselves with the organizations working for promotion of literacy, donating books to school libraries or students, facilitating enrollment of drop outs or resource poor children in schools, providing poor students with basic schooling necessities like uniform, school bags, pencil boxes, notebooks etc. Let us all commit ourselves to make literacy a bridge that leads us from misery to hope, peace and sustainability.
(The author is Scientist at SKUAST-Kashmir; can be reached at [email protected]).