The Importance of Reading

-796 million adults lack literacy skills.*

-About two-thirds of them are women.*

-67.4 million children are out of school.*

-Georgia is the only country in the world with an official literacy rate of 100%.**

-Mali has the lowest literacy rate: 26.2%.**

The 8th September is International Literacy Day But is illiteracy still an issue, and what can we actually do to help?

World illiteracy may have halved in the period between 1975 to 2005, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not a huge problem. Not being able to read presents huge barriers to people in everyday life, preventing them from gaining knowledge from a wide range of sources, from newspapers and books to Blogs and Twitter. The recent Iranian elections proved just how valuable being able to use the latter can be.

More than that, education is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Take away literacy, and you take that power away.

It’s not all bad news, of course; literacy rates are continuing to rise as resources and education improve. But there’s still a lot to be done. These are just three of the charities you can support to help contribute to Education for All’s goal of improving literacy rates by 50% between 2003 and 2015.

Established in Nepal in 2000, Room to Read starts by educating children. They work with local communities, partner organizations, and governments to develop literacy and ‘a habit of reading’ in primary school children, and supports girls to complete secondary school. Besides Nepal, they are currently operating in a range of countries including across Asia and Africa, with plenty of plans for expansion in the years to come. To date they have worked with 1128 schools, distributed 7.4 million books, paid for 8944 girls’ scholarships, and have benefitted 4.1 million children.

You can support Room to Read in a variety of ways, including fundraising and donating, and volunteering.

READ collects unwanted books in the UK and distributes them across East Africa based on the Ugandan and Tanzanian syllabi. Any titles that are unsuitable for sending (they don’t distribute political or religious books, for example) are sold online to generate money for the company, or recycled if all else fails. Thanks to a team of 1,000 student volunteers at 45 universities nationwide, 850,000 books have been shipped since the company was founded in 2004. In 2007 they won ‘Best New Charity’ in the Charity Times awards, and they were also winners of the ‘Best International Aid and Development Charity’ in 2010.

From becoming a volunteer to donating books, there are plenty of ways to get involved with READ International. Visit their website for more information.

I’ll admit that being able to read is something I’ve taken for granted ever since I could tell when my parents were skipping sentences in my favourite books to speed up bedtime. So it’s often easy to forget that illiteracy – albeit in a different form to much of the world – needs to be tackled in Britain too; one in six adults in the UK struggle with literacy, meaning their reading level is below that expected of an eleven-year-old.

The National Literary Trust campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of reading, conducts research to improve and develop support for those who need help with literacy, and brings together key organisations promoting literacy in the UK. Since the company’s foundation in 1993, literacy levels have increased by 24% – as of 2009, 80% of 11-year-olds are at the reading stage expected from their age group (up from 56% in 1995).

If you believe that reading is a right, not a privilege, then you can pledge your support for literacy on the NLT’s website. Alternatively make a donation or fundraise.

If you would like to help someone read in the UK, visit Reading Matters or Volunteer Reading Help to see how you can make a difference.

*Statistics taken from UNESCO’s website.

**Statistics taken from the United Nations Development Programme report 2009, via Wikipedia.

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About Amy

22-year-old aspiring publisher/bestselling writer/wooden bookshop owner (like the one in Notting Hill). Beyond books, I like travelling, kickboxing, Sex and the City, the theatre (plays and musicals), chocolate and wine (often together), taking photographs (they're not good enough to classify this as 'photography' - though I also like looking at other people's), Flight of the Conchords, owning pretty dresses, and posters of vintage book covers.
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