I Hate When Teachers Are Right

As an American, I have been told from a very early age that education is the key to success as an individual.  I was told millions of times by teachers that reading is fundamental, education is power, the key to your success is through education, blah blah blah.  I, as a skeptic, didn’t really believe this.  Hard work, I said, was the key to success.  As I got older I found that the answer to being a successful adult is…well, it’s both.

One funny thing I have learned on this planet for my short time:  Entire nations usually have the characteristics of their people.  If you think about this fact, you’ll see that every nation takes on the personality of the people that reside within the borders.  Now, this is likely an overblown and broad generalization, of course.  But, it makes sense…just think about it.

So, as I was thinking about literacy the other day, I was curious about how well people read around the world.  Why was I pondering this, you ask?  I do not know.  Curiosity, I suppose.  Boredom, most likely. But, I digress.  When I have a question that keeps nagging at the back of my brain, I do one thing…I consult the Internet.  I decided that I wanted to see for myself if there was a connection of how well we read to the relative success of our nation.  While looking at the statistics, from various sources, it appears that there is a severe correlation between overall literacy rates for citizens and the economic status of a country. Overall, if the people of a particular nation read fairly well then that nation will have a better chance to achieve world prominence…or at least relevance.

For example, there are a number of nations with literacy rates of less than thirty percent.  Keep in mind, literacy rates are often defined as a person aged 15 or older that can read or write.  Just telling you that for clarity.  Anyway, Niger (29%), South Sudan (27%), Afghanistan (28%), and Burkina Faso (21%) are all nations that fall into the category of, what I like to call, life-threatening literacy poverty.  As we know, or can easily find out, each of these nations has little political power, resources have been dwindled to nearly nothing, and each has very little wealth, either personal or political. These countries are poor.  Well, these countries are beyond poor.  They passed poor ten bus stops ago.  These nations are into territory of poverty that your average American cannot fathom.

Basically folks, if your people can’t read then your nation will suffer economically and politically.

So, what can we do?  Get people to read!  Yeah I know, it’s easier said than done in most cases.  Also, there are often cultural norms that prevent a lone proselytizer of literacy (like myself) from walking into Riyadh and saying “I will teach anyone to read if you want to learn”.  The powers that be may not want that to happen.  In many nations, even if higher literacy rates are a good thing, overall, a higher percentage of citizens who read well may prove problematic to incumbent power bases.  So, in many instances getting the people of the world to read can be an uphill battle.

But, this is a battle worth fighting.

I always hated when my teachers were right.  Reading is fundamental.  Education is power.  And, dang it, the key to success IS through education. 

*For an excellent example of what can be done to change world literacy rates, check out the work that the organization, Room To Read is doing in some of the poorest nations around the world.  Just amazing work, these people do.   

Author: Josh Mincey (Pangea Proxima International Consultant- Distance Learning Specialist)

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