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Chart: Literacy Rates Higher Among Youth than Adults

Tariq Khokhar's picture

In 1970, four in 10 adults were illiterate. Today that figure is less than two in 10. In every region of the world, literacy has improved, and literacy rates among youth aged 15-24 are higher than adults over 15, especially in South Asia, Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Access data on youth literacy and adult literacy at data.worldbank.org. 
 

Papua New Guinea: Improving literacy in Bougainville, one step at a time

Tom Perry's picture
Students from Aravira Primary School in central Bougainville, Papua New Guinea on their walk to school - which for some, takes up to four hours
Students from Aravira Primary School in central Bougainville, Papua New Guinea on their walk to school - which for some, takes up to four hours 

After a two-hour drive from the nearest main road, our 4WD can travel no further; me and my travelling companions will have to trek the rest of our journey to Aravira Primary School in Bougainville on foot. As we set off, a group of students from the school emerge from the bush in front of us. They smile, extend their hands in welcome and immediately offer to take my backpack. 

I politely refuse, yet within minutes I regret my decision to turn down help. As we move through the long grass along the mountain ridge, the heat which a few minutes ago was manageable is now unbearable. I’m pouring in sweat. My backpack feels 10 kilograms heavier, and the ground beneath me feels as if I’m stepping onto ice. Ten minutes into our journey, I lose my feet, slip into a crevice, and land face-first in the nearest bush.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Africa is moving toward a massive and important free trade agreement
Washington Post

African heads of state and government officials are meeting this week in Kigali, Rwanda, for the 27th African Union Summit. On their agenda will be taking the next steps to establish a free-trade area that would include all 54 African countries — which could be up and running by the end of 2017. This is news to much of the global community. Here are seven things you need to know about Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA):

Mobile Phone Data Reveals Literacy Rates in Developing Countries
MIT Technology Review

One of the millennium development goals of the United Nations is to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. That’s a complex task, since poverty has many contributing factors. But one of the more significant is the 750 million people around the world who are unable to read and write, two-thirds of which are women. There are plenty of organizations that can help, provided they know where to place their resources. So identifying areas where literacy rates are low is an important challenge. The usual method is to carry out household surveys. But this is time-consuming and expensive work, and difficult to repeat on a regular basis. And in any case, data from the developing world is often out of date before it can be used effectively. So a faster, cheaper way of mapping literacy rates would be hugely welcome.
 

Campaign Art: End illiteracy and inter-generational poverty

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

International Literacy Day is observed globally on 8 September as a way to celebrate how literacy skills can transform lives and also to bring attention to the millions of people who lack access to basic education or literacy programs.  This year's theme is "literacy and sustainable societies".

UNESCO’s 2015 Education For All Global Monitoring Report found that neither the Millennium Development Goal pertaining to universal education nor the Education for All goals, established in 2000 at the World Education Forum, have been met. By the 2015 deadline, one in six children in low and middle income countries – or almost 100 million – have not completed primary school, and there are still 781 million adults who lack basic literacy skills.

Not only is illiteracy a problem for current children who hope to achieve great things in life, it is also a problem for their children.  Not being able to read or write prevents individuals from certain jobs, accessing information on health care and other services, and from learning. This can lead to unemployment or under payment, further exacerbating poverty.  In turn, the children of the poor are more prone to ill heath, exploitation and being illiterate themselves.

Fortunately, literacy programs could actually break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. The Education for All research team estimated in 2014, “If all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12 percent cut in world poverty.”

Do Not Read This is an initiative of Destination Literacy, Room to Read's campaign to reach 10 million children by the end of 2015. The following video demonstrates how integral literacy is to our daily lives and urges viewers to help give the gift of literacy to others who may otherwise never have the chance to learn.
 
VIDEO: Do Not Read This


Prizes, literacy and innovations in education

Michael Trucano's picture
an innovation supporting a revolution?
an innovation supporting a revolution?

"Innovation!"

The buzz around this buzzword in education (the need for it, the celebrations of it, the challenges in catalyzing it) continues to get louder and louder, and the word itself seems to get invoked with increasing (almost de facto) frequency as part of discussions about the need for change.

Indeed:

How are we to meet and overcome many of the pressing, endemic, and sometimes seemingly intractable challenges facing learners, educators, education policymakers and education systems around the world if we aren't being innovative in how we define (and redefine) our problems -- and in how we propose to go about solving them?

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There are many groups, events and activities that seek to document, share knowledge about, analyze and assess various 'innovations in education' around the world. The annual World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar, for example, focuses explicitly on this theme. R4D's Center for Education Innovations does as well, in partnership with many international groups, including UNICEF (which has a special initiative on 'innovations in education' and whose much-lauded Innovations unit is for many of us a model for excellence within the international donor and aid community). The OECD's widely-read report last year on Measuring Innovations in Education seeks to offer "new perspectives to address th[e] need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational outcomes."

Some observers may feel that this explicit focus on 'innovation in education' is overblown. We don't fund a lot of things sufficiently that we already know work, why don't we first concentrate on that stuff? Others may note that some 'innovations' in education promoted today have actually been around for decades, and thus perhaps no longer really qualify as 'innovations'. Sometimes the only 'innovation' in a particular 'new' approach is to utilize some new technology to do pretty much exactly what was done before, but now 'digitally', and in a way requiring a power cable or batteries. (I am not too sure that many of these things are really all that 'innovative', but many people who keep sending me related proposals seem to be convinced that they are.) Still others detect in many discussions around the need for 'innovation in education' the guiding hand of 'corporate education reformers' and/or of technology vendors with products to sell, and, as a result of past experiences, ideological leanings, an inherent tendency towards skepticism or a satisfaction with the status quo, and/or political calculus, reflexively push back (if not indeed recoil).

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'Innovations in education' are about much more than just technology use, of course -- but there is also no denying that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) of various sorts continue to enable and catalyze many of the innovations that are being explored in the sector, whether they relate to e.g. teacher training; assessment; data collection and management; payment mechanisms; stakeholder engagement and transparency; or changes in the teaching and learning processes themselves; and whether they originate in the public, non-profit or corporate sectors (or even, as for example is the case of distributed communities of people working together to help build new software or educational content in ways that are 'free' or 'open', out of no traditional or easily definable 'sector' at all).

Sometimes the ICTs are hard to miss (as is the case with Uruguay’s pioneering Plan Ceibal), and sometimes they are behind the scenes (innovative low cost private schooling schemes like those pioneered by groups like Bridge Academies, for example, depend heavily on the use of ICTs to promote efficiency and cut costs), but increasingly they are there. Many traditional groups active in advocating for funding efforts to help end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity (the twin goals of the World Bank) are increasingly challenged to identify, make sense of and support the diffusion of 'innovations in education' in ways that are useful and efficient and cost-effective – and potentially, from time to time, even transformative.

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What we are learning about reading on mobile phones and devices in developing countries

Michael Trucano's picture
they tell me my generation is supposed to be able to 'leap frog'
they tell me my generation is
supposed to be able to 'leap frog'

Each year on 8 September, groups around the world gather together to celebrate "International Literacy Day", which is meant to highlight the importance of reading, and of being able to read. In the words of UNESCO, the UN organization which sponsors International Literacy Day, "Literacy is one of the key elements needed to promote sustainable development, as it empowers people so that they can make the right decisions in the areas of economic growth, social development and environmental integration." As contentious as issues around education around the world can be at times, there is little debate about the fundamental importance of literacy to most human endeavors.

New technologies can play important roles in helping to enable efforts and activities to teach people to learn how to read -- and to provide people with access to reading materials. As part of its communications outreach on International Literacy Day this year, for example, UNESCO highlighted recent experiences in Senegal targeting illiterate girls and women, where it has found that "mobile phones, computers, internet and TV make literacy courses much more attractive for illiterate women."

The potential for mobile phones and other mobile devices like e-readers to aid in literacy efforts has been a recurrent theme explored on the EduTech blog. In so-called 'developing countries', books may be scarce and/or expensive in many communities -- and reading materials that *are* locally available may not be of great interest or relevance to many potential readers. The fact that increasing numbers of people in such communities are carrying small portable electronic devices with them at all times capable of displaying text, and which indeed can hold tens, even thousands of digital 'books', has not gone unnoticed by organizations seeking to increase literacy and promote reading.

Two recent publications -- Reading in the Mobile Era and Mobiles for Reading: A Landscape Review -- attempt to take stock of and learn from many of the leading efforts around the world in this regard.

Expanding Budget Literacy in Nepal

Deepa Rai's picture

In mid-July, when the Government of Nepal’s FY15 budget was announced live on TV, radio and social media, most Nepalis were keen to watch the latest game of the World Cup. However, in a country with a literacy rate of only 57%, where almost half of Nepalis can neither read nor write, analyzing complex GoN budgetary information would not have been their priority. The World Bank’s Program for Accountability in Nepal (PRAN), however, is hoping to change that and educate people how the GoN budget affects their lives.
 
PRAN, together with Institute for Governance and Development (IGD), has recently developed ready-to-use, neo-literate flip charts outlining the importance of the government budget, its priorities, and its processes. These new IEC materials have been officially approved by the Government of Nepal for use nationally. Used effectively, they can help Nepali citizens become much more aware of what is rightfully theirs.  
 
Since 2011, PRAN has promoted increased social accountability and transparency in Nepal. PRAN seeks to educate communities about their local budget process and content.  As part of this effort, these new flip charts will serve as an awareness-raising tool by offering a detailed visual explanation of how the budget is designed, reviewed and approved.
 

Literacy Unplugged, Bollywood-style

Brij Kothari's picture
Photo credit: Still from Jodhaa Akbar with Same Language Subtitling, Copyright Disney UTV. Note: Subtitle in image reads "In the folds of these moments."


In India, the bulk of labor participation is in the informal sector, trapped in a vicious cycle of low skills, low wages, and low productivity. The vast majority of these individuals do not have the basic functional literacy needed for upping their job skills, and leveraging these gains to escape their cycle of poverty.The encouraging news is that there are numerous efforts under way to dramatically turn this situation around — including a successful program of using subtitles for Bollywood movies (see "Better Late than Never" in Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches, 2014).

Philippines: Education that Knows No Boundaries

Nicholas Tenazas's picture
Filipino pride and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao completed highschool
under the Alternative Learning System, after taking the required exam in 2007
Photo by the DepEd

My relationship with the Philippine Department of Education’s (DepdEd) Alternative Learning System is one of ignorance, humiliation and inspiration.

As a young economist joining DepEd back in 2002, I was full of ideas on how to improve the country’s education system. I was coming in as a junior staff for a World Bank-funded project focusing on elementary education in poor provinces.

At around the same time, I had been hearing about this ALS program, which was providing basic education to out of school youth and adults, but I really paid no mind to it. All I knew about it was that it was largely non-formal, that it was conducted periodically through modules and that it was too small to make any significant statistical impact on globally-accepted education performance indicators.


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