8th September was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on 26 October 1966, to underscore the importance of literacy for individuals and societies. The importance of literacy cannot be denied by any individual or any society. Literacy offers freedom for society, and liberate the energies of people in realising their hidden talents.
Literacy also bridges the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as serves as the surest way to overcome poverty and diseases. Consequently, any effort that is geared toward promoting literacy for the benefits of individuals, the society and the world at large is commended and most welcome. One of such efforts is the promotion of the culture of family reading, as the family constitutes the bedrock of any society.
A 2017 data provided by UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS,2017) calls for more room for improvement, although the promotion of literacy has been high on the development agenda of member states over the past decades. The report states that 750 million adults, a greater percentage of whom are women, remained illiterate in 2016. Also, 102 million of the illiterate population were a youth group within the bracket of 15-24 years old. There are also some 250 million children of primary school age who lack basic reading, numeracy and writing skills. Southern Asia and the sub Saharan African region were home to a greater percentage of the illiterate population, 49% and 27% respectively.
A critical assessment of the data provided above shows the impact of literacy or lack of it on sections of the society. Adults, women, the youth, children etc. are all affected significantly in one way or the other by any lack of effort toward promoting reading. Each of these groups of society, as indicated in the data, first of all originates from a family. For this reason, each section of society has a way of affecting the other negatively or positively in terms of cultivating a reading or learning habit. As a result, if the culture of reading is nurtured in every family, right from the formative stage of all children, it will be the surest way of ensuring a future adult population who are literate.
It is for this reason that the Ghana Book Development Council (GBDC) advocates families to make time to read together, or for parents to create an enabling environment for families, especially children. This is to ensure that the home contributes to all efforts being made by all sections of society to ensure that a literate society is built for the benefit of everyone. It is also to ensure that school-going children are made to cultivate the habit of reading at their formative stages. Such habits stay with people for life. When this is effectively done, our world will be a place where the majority of people read and rake in all the benefits of reading.
The call for families to read together resonates very well at this moment because of the restrictions and inconveniences caused by the novel corona virus disease (COVID-19). COVID-19 has created a situation where the normal way of doing things has changed. We now have a new normal way of doing things, including learning. The effort is to reduce movement of people which leads to movement and spread of the virus. This effort of reducing movement has led to a situation where classrooms, which are places of learning, have been closed. No one can quantify the effect the of COVID-19 on the promotion of literacy in the world. Virtually all children are sitting at home with virtually little formal education taking place.
Notwithstanding the closure of classrooms in many parts of the world, several efforts have been put in place by respective governments, agencies and organizations which promote education to ensure that learning goes on unhindered. The success of the measures taken is also dependent on the geographical location and the resources available. However, there is one surest way of ensuring that society’s effort toward creating a literate society is not hampered in any way. And this sure way is for families – father, mother, children, cousins, nephews - to come together and read together.
In conclusion, classrooms may be closed during periods of pandemics or vacations, but families will continue to exist. For this reason, learning must continue to take place notwithstanding the restrictions placed by COVID-19. Parents have the responsibility to ensure that learning continues at home unabated. They do not need to be in a position to be able to read before their families can read together.
They can create an enabling environment for the family to read. By doing so, they keep the whole world inline in its efforts toward ensuring that we create a literate society which rakes in the benefits of being literate. Pandemics may come and go but learning must not suffer in any way since the home is the first place of learning. Today is World Literacy Day. Let us all resolve to make the world a literate society.
Literacy Promotion Manager
Ghana Book Development Council