• Some 775 million illiterate adults worldwide
• No likely solution in sight
Yenia Silva Correa
ALTHOUGH the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), has concluded, the problem of illiteracy is far from resolved.
Data reported by UNESCO last September indicated the existence of some 775 million illiterate adults worldwide, in addition to 61 million children not attending school.
The situation is of serious concern considering that teaching all of these people to read and write within a short time period, for which there is no plan, is not in itself enough to eliminate this social problem.
Primary education must be available universally and teachers must be trained, to ensure that studies continue and the general level of education rises. If this is not done, within a few years, short term gains in eliminating illiteracy will vanish.
In Latin America and the Caribbean regional organizations indicate that 6.5 million children are not in school. It is well-known that women – rich and poor – around the world have more difficulty gaining access to education.
The subject cannot be reduced to statistics. Illiteracy’s effects are wide-ranging, with poverty and lack of education going hand in hand, along with violence, unemployment, exclusion – the full gamut of social problems.
Seen in this light, it appears unlikely that the situation will be addressed by 2015, and even less that primary education will be made universally available to all children – one of the Millennium Objectives which has received significant attention, but continues to face great challenges.
Multiple attempts to reach a definitive solution to the problem of illiteracy have been frustrated more than once by armed conflicts, lack of infrastructure or indifference on the part of governments and institutions.
Additionally, many who lack education are also suffering from hunger and illness. Focused on daily survival, they have little time for study, thus maintaining the vicious circle which keeps them marginalized on the periphery of society.
Nevertheless, there have been many successful efforts to eliminate illiteracy in different parts of the world. In Cuba’s case, the most illustrative example is that of the Yes, I Can program, which has allowed 7,126,433 persons to become literate in some 30 Latin American, African and Asian countries over the last decade.
Much earlier, in 1961, Cuba made a historic effort to ensure that the entire population was literate, long before there was any discussion of an information society, the digital age or functional illiteracy, concepts commonly cited today, which remind us that knowing how to read and write is not enough.
Despite the efforts made, UNESCO acknowledges that full literacy remains a distant goal. What is needed is collaboration among governments, support for educational programs and training for the personnel required. If this cannot be mustered, the number of people denied literacy will shamefully remain in the millions.