The Language Room, Translation & Interpretation, Edinburgh, Scotland, London, UK

750 million adults in the world cannot read or write… and of these, two thirds are women! With International Literacy Day having just been celebrated by the United Nations last week, with the motto for this coming year being ‘Reading the Past. Writing the Future.’, the topic is very much current.

The 8th of September 2016 marked the 50 years since the first International Literacy Day has been celebrated promoting literacy throughout the world.

“Britain has up to eight million adults who are functionally illiterate, according to a report published in March 2012 (https://fullfact.org/news/are-one-five-british-adults-illiterate/). The World Literacy Foundation said one in five of the UK population are so poor at reading and writing they struggle to read a medicine label or use a chequebook.”

Quoting Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, the lack of literacy makes these women and men easy to exploit, vulnerable to ill-health and abuse of their basic human rights. They struggle to gain employment and if they do, they will be paid less. Unable to read and write, these people are at a disadvantage from the very start.

A short YouTube video from Forest Whitaker: https://youtu.be/2feu1qa1LvE

Literacy is something that we take for granted. Our days as a child learning to read and write are easily forgotten. We do not think twice when we see a new word and can quickly find out its meaning. Yet, there are nearly one billion people who are lost in their own language.

The importance of International Literacy Day

Speaking and listening are quite different and all these people are absolutely fine communicating on a daily basis. The problem comes with learning something new, reading a label, using a machine or deciphering a medical note. New ideas, innovations and technologies are all explained in textbooks, leaflets and brochures. The technical intricacies of a machine are all written in its manual. Without the capacity to read this information, the world is closed to these people.

Awareness is the key. We need to make sure that the countries without teachers are able to get these skills to educate their people. Instead of using and abusing these countries, we need to learn to live with them and help them educate themselves. Nelson Mandela well known quote: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’ is very true and still very current all over the world.

We need to make sure our trade agreements must stipulate an educational commitment. We need to ensure the multinationals we buy from do more than simply buy goods from these countries. By obligating leaders to act, illiteracy can be banished. When parents can read and write, they can teach their kids to do the same.