Saturday 8 September is International Literacy Day. The United Nations honours this day to remind us of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights as well as the foundation for building a more literate and sustainable society.
This year’s theme is ‘Literacy and skills development’, with a focus on youth and adults, lifelong learning and effective linkages between literacy and skills.
Educators began linking literacy and skills in the 1950s, through the concept of functional literacy; literacy was viewed as a set of context-dependent skills that can engage a person with those activities in which literacy is required for an effective functioning of his or her group and community.
These ideas inspired a range of integrated programs where literacy, technical and vocational skills were combined around a particular sector, for example agriculture, health or construction. Put simply, if you are a construction worker you need skills in brick laying, but you also need language to describe your working world, so you learn language for laying bricks, mixing mortar and laying courses. Regardless of the type of work undertaken, literacy is critical in success.
Despite progress there is still an urgent need.
Globally, steady progress has been made in literacy with the increase in the adult literacy rate (15+ years) from 81 per cent in 2000 to 86 per cent in 2016. Yet, the world is still home to at least 750 million adults, including 102 million young people (15-24 years old), who lack basic literacy skills. Moreover, six out of ten children and adolescents (617 million) are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. If no action is taken, many of the estimated 267 million out-of-school children and young people will be part of the future illiterate adult populations.
Today we can see these powerful ideas at work in an even broader and more dynamic context.
The surprising ubiquity of mobile phone access across the developing world has created a powerful tool for social interaction, distribution of knowledge, and enabling financial transactions all at lower cost and greater convenience.
The centrality of mobile phones as a ‘livelihood tool’ has created a new kind of digital literacy gap. In addition to technical and vocational skills gaps and mismatches, and combined with other factors such as insufficient economic growth, there is massive unemployment and livelihood challenges that particularly affect young people, women and other disadvantaged groups.
Opportunity is responding to these challenges. We are engaged in serving millions of women in small groups.
We provide functional literacy training around livelihood development activities and financial services products. Increasingly we are engaged in programs to build digital literacy in our clients as well.
We provide tailored training and peer support to clients, so they can use mobile phones as a tool to run their businesses. We configure phone services so transactions are simple, enabling women who are not literate to use their phones for financial transactions.
Opportunity uses voice-based lessons in local dialect on money management, how to save and other financial literacy topics all provided by phone.
Opportunity is making a tremendous difference in the lives of the families we serve, but we can’t serve more families without your help. On International Literacy Day you can equip women in developing countries with the literacy and skills they need to end poverty by donating here.
About Opportunity International Australia
With more than 45 years’ experience, Opportunity International Australia gives families the tools they need to work their way out of poverty. For a family in a developing country struggling to survive, a small loan can help them build a business and earn a regular income with dignity and purpose. As businesses grow and employ others, 98% of loans are repaid and recycled, creating a ripple effect that reaches more and more people over time.
Leveraging the relationship-based distribution network our microfinance partners operate in, we supplement loans with community development solutions that address other barriers that often keep families in poverty. We help them live safe, healthy lives, send their children to school, ending poverty for generations to come.
Don’t fight poverty. End it.