Illiteracy - the invisible curse

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The refugee crisis in Europe is, rightly, dominating headlines. The refugees' plight is a very visible one - tired, hungry, dirty, the absence of hope is etched numbingly across their faces. It stirs us to act and to get involved. It is the right response of a civilised society to a crisis that should never have been allowed to happen.

And yet when nudged on illiteracy, another global crisis impacting 100s of millions of people too many of us are ambivalent. Perhaps it’s because we don’t see it around us that we don’t care enough. We rarely come across someone who is struggling to write, and it’s not obvious when someone is finding it hard to read. And we definitely don't see the consequences.

The curse of illiteracy is it's largely invisible. But its impact is global and devastating. Today 520 million women and girls are illiterate. They are consequently denied access to learn, earn, vote and ultimately thrive. For me the starkest statistic on literacy is that babies born to mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa who can't read are 50% less likely to reach their fifth birthday.

If you see inequality and poverty, you’re seeing the impact of illiteracy. Later this month, when world leaders meet at the United Nations in New York, they will announce their commitment to the new Global Goals for sustainable development, setting out their ambition for a more peaceful and prosperous world. There are 17 of them, and none will be achievable without combatting illiteracy along the way. The real prize of a more literate world is not more people who can read and write, but what they can then do with those skills.

There are nearly 800 million people around the world who are illiterate and we won't begin to put a dent in that number unless we are all stirred to action and become more involved. Sometimes challenges on this scale can seem too remote, too abstract to even try to fix. But this is an issue where each of us can make a difference.

Today marks International Literacy Day, an opportunity to bang the literacy drum. For us at Pearson, that beat comes in the form of Project Literacy. There are lots of ways to get involved with the project from volunteering to raising awareness through your social networks. Find out more about how you can get involved with Project Literacy and help make a lasting dent in the literacy challenge.