Everything else.. Lankan Literacy – Adapting to the 21st Century

Lankan Literacy – Adapting to the 21st Century

2018 Sep 8

Today marks the commemoration of International Literacy Day.

Literacy no longer completely means a person’s ability to read and write. This is a very base understanding of what it means to be literate. Nowadays, literacy encompasses a person’s ability to gain, evaluate and confidently communicate meaning in different, if not all, aspects of daily living. The punch line? To do so ethically. And given our current technological advancements, this only means that standards for capabilities and literacy in general have been raised.

Many underestimate the power of literacy, failing to understand how it could solve worldly problems such as poverty. It gives people a critical understanding of how the world works. Education and resourcefulness are mere added benefits of this ability. Knowledge, comprehension and the skills for critically constructing solutions can greatly enhance a person’s view of the world and tackling the problems that come hand in hand with living in it becomes a more manageable task. It’s an empowering ability that, provided used correctly, can create prosperous communities worldwide and can be utilized in making strategic decisions in aspects such as economy, sustainability etc.

Thus, it has been well established that literacy is a fundamental right for all individuals. From the initiation of International Literacy Day in 1966 at the 14th UNESCO session, it has now come a long way since. It is presently considered a key component in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals so as to target availability of (and access to) quality education and learning opportunities throughout a person’s life, regardless of where they might reside in the world.

This year’s theme is Literacy and Skills Development. The goal by its essence today is to have the government and other stakeholders realize the improvements that can be made in our literacy rates with regards to its impact on the modern working environment. In the past it has been possible to be employed, despite being illiterate, by cultivating base technical skills. However, given the increase in standards over the years, this is no longer possible. Low-level literacy will not get you a job, making unemployment (specifically amongst young adults) a worrisome issue.

Here are the statistics:

In terms of percentages, our global literacy rate is commendable. Climbing from 81.5% in 2002 to 86.6% in 2016, these percentages alone will make you think that the situation is manageable. However convert it to actual numerals and you will realize there is still quite some way to go. UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report outlines that there are a total of 750 million illiterate adults worldwide, 102 million of which are young adults (a further 2/3 of this number is women).

The condition of ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ is a vital concern to be equally addressed as each of these elements are correlated closely low literacy levels. Over a 192 million people worldwide remain unemployed, according to statistics from the International Labour Organization, and these numbers are only likely to increase if there are no changes made to education and training strategies. This realization is only supported by the fact that 2.1 billion adults worldwide have low-level reading proficiency. Unemployment amongst such individuals will only increase if they are not given access to sufficient training methods.

South Asia, West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa account for 75% of the world’s illiterate and are also home to the 123 million children without access to schools.

Two countries stand out, however, having remarkably high literacy rates:

1. Maldives – 99%
2. Sri Lanka – 92%

That’s right, our very own Lanka has above average literacy rates. Being a developing country only makes this number even more of a remarkable feat and a definite source of bragging rights. Despite a near 30-year long war in the near past, our nation managed to climb up from 57.8% at the time of our independence to the exceedingly high rate it is today. Many attempt to explain this with the free education system available to children.

Image courtesy of unhabitat.lk

While establishing that these percentages are a highly commendable feat and worthy cause for celebration, do not let these numbers distract you from the improvements we can still be making. Around 1.15 million Lankan adults remain illiterate as of 2015. A Child Activity Survey in 2016 revealed that 452,661 children were not attending school and 51,249 children had never attended school during their lifetime. The numbers can only heavily impact our youth unemployment rate, which currently stands at 21.80% but is subject to increase with each generation of uneducated youth.

These are still numbers that carry some considerable weight towards our community and need to be addressed during the year of 2018. Holding to this year’s theme, we can put more emphasis on the skills, and therefore literate needs, needed for employment in a contemporary work setting fueled by technological advancements and sustainable measures.

Furthermore, we look at the 92% rate and little else is remembered. What of the fact that literacy is not merely an ability to read and write? What use are these numbers if they can’t be put to use in sustainable measures that will make our community more prosperous and secure? Being an above average literate nation has no merit when it does not impact our capabilities of making environmentally conscious decisions or if it hardly affects crime rates or understanding of subjects such as street harassment. As mentioned before, literacy encompasses a wide area of understanding and being able to make use of that understanding in ethical measures is vital.

The point being – yes, we have improved. Yes, it is truly amazing how far we have come but no, we have not reached the maximum of our capabilities. There is much more to address and we can begin today, with the understanding of how literacy can affect a generation’s future, with regards to both employment in the modern working place and life satisfaction.


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