As I prepare to send my daughter back to school this fall, I am reminded that each evening as I tuck her into bed after a day filled with ABC’s and 123’s, there will be 72 million children waking up on the other side of the world that will not go to school and never open a book -- putting them on the fast track to joining the 776 million adults in the world who lack basic literacy skills. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken.
I was inspired to devote my career to increasing educational opportunities for children in the developing world after my work in the private sector took me to Vietnam. At the time, Vietnam was just opening up to the world and to direct foreign investment, and I was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit I saw in the Vietnamese people to pull themselves out of poverty. I was also disheartened when I saw how many people lacked the basic skills or education to really do so. My company was hiring a workforce to operate major factories, and the majority of the workforce had barely ever used a telephone, much less a computer.
Despite significant strides made in recent years, literacy remains an elusive target for too many. One in five adults worldwide remains unable to read and write, despite education having been specifically identified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
International Literacy Day is meant to shed light on the irrefutable link between literacy and self-empowerment. The benefits of basic literacy sweep through entire communities, increasing civic participation, life expectancy, and wages along the way.
On September 8 this year, exercise your right to read. Visit your local library, read a bedtime story to your kids, or donate that box of books you’ve been meaning to give to your local Goodwill. Remember how lucky we are to live in a society that is able to provide our children with a quality primary education, and take a moment to appreciate what it would be like to have grown up on the other side of that statistic. I know I will.