Idris Elba partners with a formerly illiterate mother to tackle adult illiteracy with 're-written' story

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Over half of Brits unaware of scale of illiteracy on their doorstep as campaign urges more to be done to help adults become literate.

We are underestimating the scale of illiteracy in the UK by almost 50%2, new research released on International Literacy Day has found. When asked, respondents estimated the figure to be 2.7 million when in fact over 5 million adults3 in the UK are unable to read and write properly. However, more than a third of people4 believe that illiteracy is not a prominent issue in the UK.

A new awareness effort from Actor and Activist Idris Elba and Project Literacy, a global campaign founded by learning company Pearson and made up of over 100 organisations dedicated to ending illiteracy by 2030, is aiming to change that.

Today they have launched a children’s story with a difference, bringing to life one of the challenges illiterate parents face – not being able to read their children a bedtime story.

‘The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong’ is a fresh re-telling of the classic story ‘Chicken Little’, but with a twist – it has been re-written by Wanda Stewart, who has spent the last year learning to read and write, something that as an adult, she believed she’d never be able to do.

Illiterate in her early motherhood, Wanda struggled to read bedtime stories to her children when they were young; using her imagination, she made up her own tales to match the illustrations and created a character called ‘Pong-Pong the Brave’. Using the illustrations in ‘Chicken Little’ as inspiration, Wanda has finally been able to put words to a page and make her story into a reality.

Idris Elba is helping to take Wanda’s story from her imagination to a global audience through contributing a foreword to the book and has filmed a heartfelt bedtime story reading that parents and children alike can enjoy.

84% of parents5 in the UK regularly read their children a bedtime story, but Project Literacy estimates there are 3.2 million parents6 in the UK whose low literacy skills prevent them from experiencing this. More seriously, children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves7.

"Story time has always been one of the most magical and treasured parts of the day for me to connect with my children but it’s something that millions of parents across the UK who struggle with their reading are missing out on. "

Idris Elba, a Project Literacy Ambassador

He goes on to say, "However, more alarmingly, it means tasks most people take for granted become impossible, from not being able to read the label on a medicine bottle to not being able to vote.”

“Sadly, this is an issue that is passed on from generation to generation, a cycle that we want to break. Through sharing Wanda’s inspiring journey, we want to help others understand the importance of investing in adult literacy, which is why we’re encouraging as many people as possible to support us by reading Wanda’s story.”

"By re-writing this story, we want to help rewrite the lives of so many adults who struggle with reading and writing and de-stigmatise the issue of illiteracy through increased awareness.”

Kate James, Project Literacy spokesperson and Chief Corporate Affairs
and Global Marketing officer at Pearson.

“Globally, funding for literacy programmes is skewed more heavily towards children in primary and secondary school, rather than youth or adult literacy8, yet we know that there’s no way for us to break the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy if we don’t focus on parents. We need to tackle all levels if we’re to close the global literacy gap in the next decade,” James continued.

The story will be available for free download from Project Literacy - rewriting lives. For every book downloaded, Pearson will donate £1 to Project Literacy partners who are helping adults learn to read and write. To learn more about how to help break the cycle of illiteracy, visit Project Literacy - rewriting lives.



1. Opinion Matters research found that 58% of the British public estimated that the number of illiterate people in the UK was less than 4 million.
2. Opinion Matters research found that on average the British public estimated the number of illiterate people in the UK to be 2.7 million. The true figure is 5 million, meaning that people are underestimating the extent by almost 50% (46%)
3. National Literacy Trust
4. Opinion Matters found that 34.5% of the British public do not believe illiteracy is a prominent issue in the UK
5. Opinion matters found that 84% of the British public read their children a bed time story at least once a week or more
6. Estimate calculated using ONS population statistics (53.3 million adults) and number of parents (34.9 million) and applying to illiterate population (5 million adults)
7. Pro Literacy
8. A Landscape Analysis of the Global Literacy Sector (Results for Development Institute)

Notes to Editors

For more information contact:
Tel: +44(0) 20 7067 0252

  • Download the new story ‘The Little Chicken named Pong-Pong’ from Project Literacy rewritinglives 
  • Access imagery, excerpts from the book, B-Roll, video content from Dropbox 
  • Opinion Matters Research carried out in August 2017 on a sample size of 1142 UK Adults (Available upon request)

About Project Literacy

Project Literacy is a global campaign founded and convened by Pearson to make significant and sustainable advances in the fight against illiteracy so that all people - regardless of geography, language, race, class, or gender – have the opportunity to fulfil their potential through the power of words.
Project Literacy Partners include:

28 Too Many, 826 National, Achievement for All, Action on Addiction, AFRIpads, All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development, Angaza, Asia Foundation, Book Aid International, Book Trust, Books Beyond Words, CENPEC, Center for Literacy, Doctors of the World UK, Edom, Edovo, Eduze, FCB INFERNO, Feed the Minds, Fight for Peace, First Book, GOOD Worldwide, Guru-G, Guten, Insane Logic, Jumpstart, Karadi Path, Kingo, Lessons for Life Foundation, LightSail, Literacy Action, Literacy Partners, LitWorld, Livox, Microsoft, National Literacy Trust, NOW, Nutrition & Education International (NEI), Office of Adult Education - City of Philadelphia and Adults Can Learn to Read (ACLTR), Pearson, Pencils of Promise, Pledgeling, Project Literacy of Bergen County, ProLiteracy, Raising a Reader, Reach Out and Read, Read Easy UK, Read On. Get On., Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Reading Partners, Results for Development Institute, Robbie AI, Room to Read, SunCulture, The Big Issue, The Hunger Project, The Institute for Strategic, Dialogue, ThinkCERCA, Too Small To Fail, Ubongo, UNESCO, Unreasonable Group, Veerni Project, War Child UK, Weber Shandwick, Womankind Worldwide, World Literacy Foundation, Worldreader.

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