Saturday, September 5, 2009

Literacy and Empowerment

8th Sept 2009 is the International Literacy Day. According to the data on the UNESCO website,
  • there are some 776 million adults who lack minimum literacy skills, which means one in every five adults is still not literate; and
  • there are 75 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.

In Asia and the Pacific alone, we have about 504 million illiterates.

Sitting here, reading the message from Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, i reflect on the gift of literacy i have received since young which i have so often taken for granted. Literacy and education has indeed bestowed me with a window of boundless opportunity, the empowerment and the confidence to pursue and enjoy the life i want.

I grew up in the seventies in a kampong and my family was no where near rich. But education was provided for all children in my country. And i love reading. I can still remember the first book i ever owned, a big pictorial book on ABC which my eldest sister bought for me.

Growing up poor means we couldn't afford to buy books for me. But there were community libraries. Before i started my primary one education, i used to visit the library in Toa Payoh, one of the earliest HDB estate in Singapore. It was rather far from my kampong but i would always look forward to the visit. I can still remember my favorite book then was Miffy the rabbit, which comes in different titles.

Then i enrolled into primary school and the school library became my hunting place. And i found more treasures in a new community library in AMK, which was nearer to my place than Toa Payoh. Since then, i have graduated to more hunting places.

From miffy, i moved on to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, to nearly all of Enid Blyton series which includes the magical series such as the Wishing Chair to adventure type series like Famous Five, The Secret Seven and the Naughtiest Girl, to others like Dr Seuss series, Nancy Drew series, The Swiss Family Robinson, Tin tin, Huckleberry Finn, Wizard of Oz, Agatha Christy series, Sherlock Holmes and many many others. Likewise for chinese titles, i spent many pleasurable hours in my world of books. My dream then was to become a librarian when i grew up. Just recalling on these brings a smile to me. :)

From there, i turn to books not just for leisure but for practical uses, such as factual stuff in learning about the world, self help books etc. So for me, literacy opens me to the world of books and knowledge. It brought me from a little girl growing up in a kampong in the seventies to today, well educated, well travelled, able to hold my own in a male dominated industry, happy in my own skin.

Yet i have never given literacy much thought. It is something i have taken for granted, growing up in Singapore, where literacy today is estimated to be around 99.7%.

Official data indicates there's still one in five adults today who is not literate. I'll like to salute to people around the world who are contributing to improving literacy around the world and making the world a better place to live. You can find the list of Effective Literacy Programmes in the UNESCO website if you would like to do your bit to help. The programmes are classified under regions/country, themes and target group which allows one to search through programmes interest closer to heart.

Another interesting site you can check out is Better World Books, which collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide.

Happy sunday.