NEW ORLEANS — Approximately 800 million people around the world are illiterate. Two thirds of these are women and girls in developing countries throughout Africa, Asia and South America. However, a few organizations, including the International Reading Association, are working to eliminate illiteracy.
This week, 8,000 teachers, researchers and literacy administrators will meet for the annual International Reading Association Conference in New Orleans. The conference will primarily focus on improving the quality of reading instruction, providing information and research about reading and encouraging lifetime reading habits.
Since 1956, the International Reading Association has been promoting literacy and bringing research-based practices to classrooms around the world. The work is carried out with the help of 56,000 members and academics in 82 different countries.
Studies have determined that literacy leads to a better quality of life. The founder of the Educate A Child campaign, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar, says that, “The chance of an education is a chance to escape poverty, to improve health and to enhance opportunities.”
Investment in improved literacy can have economic benefits as well. The Literacy Partners organization states that for each dollar invested towards illiteracy, society receives $7.14 in return. This is because literate individuals have better job opportunities and receive higher incomes in the workforce. As a result, the state also spends less money on literate residents, which increases the return on literacy investments.
Advocates of the International Reading Association stress that more is needed to make substantial advancements toward the worldwide literacy movement. The group places a great emphasis on diversity in children’s books and instructors, stating that children are more likely to learn to read if they are able to connect and identify with characters and their cultures.
The association now aims to take on a new plan of action which focuses on 21st century learning. Improved teacher quality remains the most important component of education advancement, though the International Reading Association emphasizes that this is an urgent matter which should be progressing more rapidly in order to end illiteracy.
Association members are currently working to introduce innovative forms of professional development and methods for instruction, especially in “under-resourced” schools. Professional development in urban and impoverished areas should fine-tune each student’s strengths rather than focus on remediation. The group also believes that there are now new forms of literacy, such as critical and creative thinking, that require students to develop different skill sets in order to reach complete literacy.
The challenge of eradicating illiteracy is large and requires constant attention in order for substantive goals to be reached. It is important to continue using new teaching methods and strategies, to work for better educational policies and to make education and learning resources more accessible across the globe. This is a goal which can be reached in the coming years with help from advocates and educators worldwide.
– Meagan Douches