You should know by now that we love a good International Day of Something or Other here at Seed Change Blog HQ. In case you missed it, September 8th was International Literacy Day.
Despite steady progress, illiteracy remains endemic around the world. UNESCO estimates that 758 million adults cannot read and write. 122 million of those are youths. 17% of the adult population are illiterate. High levels of literacy are correlated with all sorts of good stuff, such as incomes, gainful employment and life satisfaction. What’s more, strong, broad-based levels of literacy mean that the general population is better able to enter into a discussion about what kind of society they want. As such, literacy is closely related with more cohesive and inclusive societies.
At a personal level, being able to read and write is so vital because it gives you a sense of agency – a feeling that you’re in control of your own life. And so, in the modern world, illiteracy can have severe effects on self-esteem.
There is also a distinct gender slant to global illiteracy – around two thirds of illiterate people are women – and this is worrying because, as the old development saying goes, literate fathers have literate sons, but literate mothers have literate children. Increasing female literacy not only boosts the income potential of women, reduces domestic violence and promotes gender equality more generally, but these gains are also passed on to the next generation.
It is important to remember that illiteracy is not confined to reading and writing – financial illiteracy can be just as debilitating. That’s why a strong component of our Farmer Training Program focuses on financial literacy, covering issues such as savings, borrowing and setting up bank accounts. You can read more about this in our Annual Report. But as you do, remember that the ability to do so is a luxury denied to three-quarters of a billion people.