Mashable – As you read this, you’re exercising a human right just by looking at these letters, stringing them into words and understanding their meaning.
It’s literacy in action — and it’s a fundamental right that isn’t always included in conversations about global inequality.
Written language is one of the primary ways we communicate and relay information as a global society. But for about 781 million people around the world, access to that information is blocked — simply because they’re denied the opportunity to learn how to read and write.
According to the United Nations, a literate community is ideal, capable of effectively exchanging ideas and engaging in meaningful debates. Illiteracy, meanwhile, can breed harmful exclusion of already vulnerable populations, and inhibits community growth.
Global literacy rates are a huge inequality to tackle, and one that can look radically different from region to region. To help foster independence and life-long learning, start with these six ways to make an impact.
1. Know the facts.
— UNESCO Statistics (@UNESCOstat) September 9, 2015
Addressing gaps in literacy begins with educating yourself on the landscape of the issue. And there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Global statistics estimate that about 15 percent of people ages 15 and older can’t read and write, adding up to an estimated 781 million people worldwide. About 122 million young people are illiterate, showing that literacy skills for younger generations are still in need of dire attention.
But there are disparities in who is most impacted by illiteracy around the globe. While about 89 percent of men can read and write, only about 81 percent of women have the same skills. Even with global progress toward gender parity, that trend continues with upcoming generations. Girls represent about 60 percent of the 122 million youth who cannot read or write worldwide. In total, an estimated two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women.
Trends also show how illiteracy is most prevalent in poorer regions. In developing areas like South Sudan, Niger and Guinea, less than 30 percent of the total population can read or write. Adult literacy rates are well below the global average in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — unstable and developing regions where more than 1 in 3 adults cannot read or write.
But not all statistics highlight a bleak view of global literacy. Globally, the youth literacy rate increased from 83 percent to 91 percent over the last 20 years, with about 60 percent of countries eradicating or nearly eradicating illiteracy among youth.
2. Listen to first-person experience.
Reading and writing is probably something you take for granted, doing it without thinking of literacy as a human right denied to millions around the world.
Accepting that you can’t have first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to lack this right is crucial in responsibly advocating for improved literacy around the globe. But while accepting your own privilege of literacy, it’s also important to listen to the experiences of those who lack the ability to read and write. People who are non-literate or illiterate are often perceived to be unintelligent, but it’s essential to debunk this myth and realize that those with first-hand knowledge of a problem often know how best to address it.
Developing an understanding of literacy gaps relies on giving those who cannot read or write a chance to be heard and have their voices values. Do this in your everyday life, or visit the International Literacy Organization to read a variety of experiences of people currently developing literacy skills.
3. Support organizations reaching at-risk populations.
— Columbus Literacy (@cbusliteracy) September 23, 2015
Though the impact of illiteracy is felt around the world, some populations are more at risk of lacking literacy skills than others. As statistics show, many already marginalized populations experience high rates of illiteracy, including women, low-income individuals and those living in developing nations.
To help address global inequality — including illiteracy — you need to focus on these vulnerable populations. And that means supporting the work of those constantly invested in increasing literacy around the globe.
Though certainly not an exhaustive list of impactful literacy organizations, these nonprofits are working to address the literacy crisis by supporting at-risk populations.
- Room to Read: Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.
- International Literacy Association: As a nonprofit global advocacy organization, the International Literacy Association is one of the largest literacy organizations in the world, with a presence in more than 75 countries. The organization provides educational resources to students and educators, trains teachers in literacy education, sets literacy standards, and advocates for infrastructure and policies supporting literacy worldwide.
- Reach Out and Read: Based in more than 5,500 cities across the U.S., nonprofit Reach Out and Read helps support literacy skills in early childhood by helping low-income families access information and support, while also providing adequate health care for young children.
- Literacy for Incarcerated Teens: Literacy for Incarcerated Teens is a New York-based nonprofit working to help address staggeringly high illiteracy rates among incarcerated teens. An estimated 85 percent of all juveniles who enter the court system in the U.S. are functionally illiterate, with more than 60 percent of all prison inmates considered functionally illiterate.
- ProLiteracy: Each year, ProLiteracy provides about 200 women and girls in Niger with literacy skills in their native languages of Hausa and Djerma. The organization also teaches them how to start or grow a small business. In Niger, only 29 percent of adults have literacy skills, one of the lowest rates in the world.
- Bookshare: As the largest accessible digital library in the world, Bookshare is designed specifically for people with print and learning disabilities, like dyslexia and autism. Bookshare is an online collection of more than 43,000 digital books and textbooks to help support the literacy needs of populations especially in need of reading support. The organization provides free membership to qualifying at-risk populations, including students and seniors with disabilities.
4. Donate books.
— Better World Books (@BWBooks) August 10, 2016
Along with giving time and funds, there is a more straightforward way to support literacy: giving books. From basic alphabet books to short story collections and novels, books help foster and develop reading skills throughout a person’s life.
The African Library Project coordinates book drives in the U.S., partnering with schools and villages in Africa to start small community libraries. To find out how to set up a drive in your town, visit here.
Better World Books collects used books to donate to those in need or sells them to the public to fund literacy initiatives around the world. Since the organization’s launch in 2002, Better World Books has raised more than $23.7 million for literacy initiatives globally, and has donated more than 20.5 million books. You can donate your gently used books here or shop used books here.
Alternatively, you can simply donate your unwanted books to local organizations making an impact in your community. Donate books along with your regular clothing donation — just make sure the organization accepts books first.
5. Volunteer in your own community.
— Create Change (@createchangenow) April 13, 2016
One of the biggest things you can do to help is to donate your time locally. Your own community, after all, is where you can see your volunteer efforts make the most tangible difference.
Even if you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t seem to need literacy support at first glance, it’s crucial to support reading and writing skills in all communities — especially for underserved youth. Low-income youth, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups are at risk in all communities for not acquiring adequate reading skills. Knowing that, you can help make a difference by getting involved.
6. Celebrate literacy in your own life.
While it can heartbreaking to know that literacy is a right millions of people don’t have, feeling guilty about your own ability to read and write does little to solve the issue. As an advocate, it’s important to view your own relationship with literacy as something to nurture and celebrate.
Make sure you take time to reflect on the importance of literacy in your own life. Unwind by reading a book — and then get back to work supporting the right to literacy for everyone.
Written by BY KATIE DUPERE