Equip children with the literacy skills they need to succeed in life

Linda Hiebert says leaders must refocus on quality education to help reduce poverty and drive a new era of economic development

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 9:44am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 9:44am

As the cornerstone of development, literacy unlocks human potential. It leads to better health, better employment opportunities and safer and more stable societies. In short, literacy matters - to children, adults and nations.

This year is especially important: the Millennium Development Goals will expire this month and the Sustainable Development Goals will set the agenda for the next 15 years of global progress on education and development. In 2000, when the MDGs were adopted, about 100 million children of primary school age were out of school. Since then, that has fallen by almost half. The literacy rate among young people between 15 and 24 has increased globally from 83 per cent in 1990 to 91 per cent this year.

These numbers should be lauded, but carefully. The expansion in children's school enrolment is a great gain, but has strained the capacity of education systems to provide quality learning. Globally, 250 million children - including many of the most vulnerable - are not learning the basics - reading, writing and maths - even though half have attended school for at least four years.

The global community must make a concerted effort to measure and fund education programming for the most vulnerable children

Some days, these numbers seem daunting: how do we help so many children learn? One way we are helping is through "literacy boost", a programme that supports the development of reading skills in young children. It has been proven to strengthen learning outcomes through reading assessments, teacher training and community activities like reading clubs and parental awareness training. This approach is working.

In Ethiopia, where our largest "literacy boost" effort is under way, nearly 750,000 children have joined after-school reading clubs. Led by over 9,000 community volunteers, World Vision Ethiopia, in partnership with the government and local communities, has set up nearly 2,400 such clubs.

We are at various stages of implementing the "literacy boost" programme in 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. We're seeing good results in Burundi, Malawi and India, for example.

Members of the UN will meet later this month to discuss and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals. We need global leaders to refocus on the role of education in poverty reduction. The global community must make a concerted effort to measure and fund education programming for the most vulnerable children.

Quality education and the acquisition of literacy skills can help lead to a new era of economic development, and continued momentum towards a world where children have the literacy skills they need to succeed in work and in life.

Linda Hiebert is the senior director, education and life skills, at World Vision International