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International Literacy Day

UNESCO International Literacy Day
Image via Wikipedia

I suppose it sounds a bit of a grand and pompous claim, but I think I’m justified in saying I’ve devoted my working life to helping children become literate. After all I am in my thirty third year of being a primary school teacher.  Ten years ago I did a Masters degree in education and my thesis was on the topic of literacy. And for the last few years I’ve been a teacher of children with special needs such as dyslexia. Added to that I’m also a writer – and writers need readers.  So all in all literacy is a bit of an obsession of mine.

Today was International Literacy Day – hence my even higher than normal level of interest. Being literate is something most people take for granted. But across the world there still remain many barriers to people’s acquisition of literacy.

As part of my Masters degree I studied the role of education in sustainable development and through that I got the chance to go and teach in some township schools in Cape Town.

  There were classes of 60 or more children with few, or sometimes, no books. But the children were incredibly eager to learn. When I got home to Scotland I contacted my employer, The City of Edinburgh Council, and they agreed to send out the Edinburgh Literacy programme with all its resources and reading books to the schools I’d worked in. I hope my time there and my employer’s support may have, at least in a small way, improved some lives.

But there’s still so much to be done. ‘Knowledge is power’ according to the saying. And it is literacy that gives access to much of our knowledge. Check out UNESCO UK’s website http://www.unesco.org.uk/international_literacy_day   There you can read (amongst other things) about projects in the developing world to empower women through literacy. In the words of Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, ‘When a woman is literate she can make choices to dramatically change her life for the better.’ And presumably the lives of her children will be improved too. See also the website of  Room to Read http://www.roomtoread.org This wonderful organisation does much to create and distribute books to children in the developing world. 

On the same website there is information about the forthcoming Knowledge and Innovations Network for Literacy where literacy researchers and practitioners can share knowledge and debate literacy topics.

Education and communication in our globally networked world depend more than ever on the ability to read and type. But literacy is not yet a universal right. So, even if you just read your kids a bedtime story, do your bit to extend that right.

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