Literacy: a Bridge to Hope

We are living in a constantly evolving society, where we put emphasis on new technologies, progress and discoveries. However, nearly 800 million adults worldwide cannot read nor write properly (or even at all). Today, we are celebrating the International Literacy Day, which gives us the opportunity to dwell a bit on the European situation and see if EU countries are all performing well.

The gift of a lifetime

Literacy is an inherent part of our personal development. Being able to read and write allows us individuals to be the masters of our own life. A basic to an advanced level of literacy is our best ally, because it is the keystone of how to become an active, well-informed and sensible citizen of the world.

On a wider scale, literacy empowers us, empowers a group, a nation, the world. Illiteracy is not just being unable to be kept aware of the global current situation. Illiteracy is losing your identity, your sense of belonging. It prevents you from being recognised as an individual. Literacy is a lifelong gift and plays a determining role in the development of innovative, thriving and peaceful societies.

“Smart growth means strengthening knowledge and innovations as drivers of our future growth.”

European Commission, Europe 2020 Strategy

Literacy on the European scale

One out of five Europeans cannot read nor write sufficiently to fully function in our society. This figure was a fairly bitter pill to swallow for the former European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, who decided to make literacy one of the core issues of her four-year mandate.

Last June, during the World Literacy Summit, Vassiliou acknowledged that 20% of 15-year-old Europeans were still lacking basic literacy skills. A call for action and a step change in how we teach and approach literacy were required.

It is vital to keep children, teenagers and adults motivated to read and thus reduce the number of low-achievers in reading below 15% by the end of Europe 2020. This has become the warhorse of EU Education Ministers.

Framing the solutions

The High-Level-Group (2011) and more recently ELINET (2014) both aim to gather and analyse policy information with the sole purpose to raise awareness of the importance of acting now to reduce the number of children, young people and adults with low literacy skills by 2020.

Accordingly, three actions ought to be taken. Firstly, creating an appetite for reading especially within the family circle, where children spend most of their time and can influence their parents’ habits. For example, Vassiliou, former EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth created “Europe loves reading”, events across Europe promoting the joy of reading).

This goes hand-in-hand with enhancing the quality of teaching and learning and encouraging teachers to meet their pupils or students’ needs.

And finally, putting an end to exclusion and closing the EU’s four main literacy gaps, namely socio-economic, migrant, gender and digital.

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, once said: “literacy is a bridge from misery to hope”. His words of wisdom resonate more than ever and an effort to keep raising awareness, sharing our knowledge and committing ourselves to long-term sustainable solutions is to be made. A literate Europe and a literate world could be a reality.

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