I’m not sure whether to say “Happy International Literacy Day” because as the UNESCO infographic below says, the state of literacy in the world is quite serious. Nearly a billion people lack basic literacy skills. Can this be possible, 5,000 years after the invention of writing? You would think that such a powerful technology would be spread and sought with enthusiasm, like agriculture, the wheel, electricity and the internal combustion engine. Yet this master tool of civilization cannot be used by 12.5% of the human population (not counting children under age 15). Two thirds of these are girls and women, which is a critical problem because uneducated women tend to have larger, poorer, less educated, and less healthy families than educated women. I don’t think it is a coincidence that illiteracy is highest in the world’s conflict zones, South Asia, West Asia, and Africa. The pen is only mightier than the sword when one knows how to wield it. A literate, educated population may be the best defense against oppression, extremism, and economic exploitation, which is why literacy should be a priority for development. Give people the tools and they can take care of themselves and each other.
[Click infographic for a larger version.]