The world has changed since 1966 – but our determination to provide every woman and man with the skills, capacities and opportunities to become everything they wish, in dignity and respect, remains as firm as ever. Literacy is a foundation to build a more sustainable future for all.
–Director General; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
Fifty years ago today, the United Nations officially declared September 8 International Literacy Day. This is a day to officially recognize literacy and education as a tool to lift people out of poverty. However globally, 59 million children of primary school age (age 5-11) do not even get the chance to enter the classroom. Half of this number can be attributed to conflict and fragile states. Thirty million of these children are girls.
Education is reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also so much more. In addition to primary students out of school, 65 million adolescents (age 12-15) are not in school. Of children in school, 250 million are not learning basic skills in reading, writing, and math or are dropping out before the fourth grade. In addition, an estimated 103 million youth cannot read or write. The impact of all of this is widespread.
- If all girls had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64% – from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million per year;
- One extra year of schooling can raise an individual’s earnings by as much as 10 percent. For girls, the return on a year of secondary education correlates with as high as a 25 percent increase in wages later in life;
- As little as four years of primary schooling can boost a farmer’s productivity by nearly 9 percent;
- In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 1.8 million children’s lives could be saved if their mothers had at least secondary education;
- If all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds, saving 189,000 lives;
- Primary school education can decrease the number of HIV infections per year by as much as 700,000 worldwide;
- Research has shown that every additional year of schooling reduces an adolescent boy’s risk of becoming involved in conflict by 20 percent.
Yesterday, the House voted to pass the Education for All Act – a bill that will amend U.S. foreign assistance to provide support to countries so that every child can go to school and so that the education they receive in school is high quality. This bill authorizes no new spending but works by mandating that the U.S. develop a comprehensive integrated strategy to promote basic education and increase transparency. Work will focus on marginalized populations, including girls, children with disabilities, and children who are affected by conflict, such as Syrian refugees. Also included in the strategy will be children who have been affected by domestic violence, early marriage, and gender-based violence.
While yesterday was a victory, it will mean nothing if the Senate does not act. If the Senate does not also pass this bill before the end of the session in December, it will fail to become law and this critical legislation will have to wait until the next Congress, restarting the process.
Make International Literacy Day mean something – Ask your Senators to cosponsor this bill.
Photo: Students at school in San Lorenzo, Ecuador. © 2014 World Vision/ photo by Jon Snyder