A Young Ambassador’s Role In Eradicating Illiteracy
In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine wars and climate change, illiteracy is one of the most significant issues being pushed to the background. The general consensus is that it’s something we’ll just have to deal with later.
But when is ‘later’? Planning to take action on illiteracy ‘later’ is like high school students planning to do their homework ‘later’.
It just never comes.
We need to act on illiteracy NOW. Otherwise, ‘later’ will soon become too late. We need leaders in literacy stepping up and doing something about it.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So let’s make use of this powerful weapon. Let’s change the world. Because disadvantaged people deserve it.
My Biggest Concerns for Literacy
Literacy is the key to making the world a prosperous and peaceful place to live. This is why I am concerned for the 264 million children who are denied access to basic schooling (UNESCO 2017). As put by American senator Elizabeth Warren, “A good education is a foundation for a better future”. It is only when people are literate, that they are able to think better and play a role in improving our world. Education can eliminate major problems in our world, resulting in good governance, peace in society, the eradication of poverty etc.
One of my biggest concerns is that having basic literacy skills is no longer enough. While this is undoubtedly necessary, in today’s age, a complex literacy skill set is required. It is not enough to just decode words, though this is a skill many people still lack. Ideally, everyone should be able to comprehend and evaluate the information they read. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go in achieving this level of literacy. In my opinion, the problem is not that literacy rates are decreasing, but rather that our world is developing at such a rapid pace, that those affected simply cannot keep up.
Inequality prohibits illiterate people from being equal members of society, where affected individuals do not have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. I find it quite disheartening that impaired literacy affects the everyday activities of many individuals to such a significant extent, that they cannot use technology, read medicine bottles and interpret road signs, all of which are simple and regular tasks. In our constantly developing world, people do not have basic literacy, let alone the advanced literacy skills necessary in today’s age. In the rush to digitalise our world, we don’t want to be leaving anybody behind!
Illiteracy in Australia
Very few people would consider illiteracy to be an issue in a well-developed country like Australia. However, there are huge discrepancies between the literacy levels across Australians, with the most common discriminating factors being geographical location and ethnicity.
As a well-educated non-Indigenous girl from the suburban areas of Sydney, I am lucky to be a part of the 86% (ABS 2013) of Australians who have a basic level of literacy. However, this leaves 14% (ABS 2013) of Australians who are functionally illiterate. Coupled with limited numeracy skills, this accounts for more than one-in-five Australians who can at most complete very simple reading and/or basic mathematical tasks (OECD 2019).
Unfortunately, not every Australian is lucky enough to be literate, especially Indigenous Australians or those in rural or remote locations who lack the right to education. As a young ambassador, I aim to educate my community on the significant disparities between literacy levels of privileged Australians and Aboriginal people in rural areas.
A study by Lowitja Institute found that 40% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults had “minimal” English literacy. Though a shocking statistic in itself, the study further showed this figure increases to as high as 70% in many remote areas.
I live in a country that is constantly developing at a rapid pace. While steps are being taken to reduce the literacy gap between Indigenous Australians in rural and remote areas through initiatives like Close the Gap (AIHW 2018), there is still a long way to go.
The Young Ambassadors Program – One of the most transformational experiences of my life
As a young immigrant from India, I knew the impact of poverty on illiteracy. So growing up, I always viewed my education as a privilege, not an entitlement, knowing that not everyone was lucky enough to have this basic human right. Hence, I raised awareness of the lack of access to education in remote communities where there are limited educational facilities and funding. I also founded a numeracy program at my local primary school, to teach children the basic numeracy skills, so they would be able to take part in an active life and not be hindered by day-to-day tasks involving numeracy.
As I was an active member of my school’s social justice committee, my social justice teacher informed me of this program, suggesting I apply, given my passion for children’s education. I jumped at the opportunity to become a World Literacy Foundation Young Ambassador, as the program aligned perfectly with my goals to promote literacy and education.
I knew the program would provide me with new insights into how I could better advocate for literacy and help educate disadvantaged people, but most of all, I was excited to join the program to run my own fundraiser to support this worthy cause. This was something I had never endeavoured to do before, given the uncertainty of being an effective advocate to raise funds.
Participating in the program, I was inspired by the speakers, many of whom were education activists themselves. Listening to successful literacy advocates gave me the confidence to run my own fundraiser, which was very successful. I felt supported through the entire journey by both the in-depth modules as well as the program coordinators who were only an email away. I really enjoyed completing the modules which built on different necessary skills such as advocacy, leadership, planning and organising events, preparing me to become a better leader and advocate for literacy.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a young ambassador for literacy and education. The program was definitely one of the most transformational experiences of my life, helping me develop not only as a person but as a leader in literacy and educational issues.
Post Young Ambassador Program Endeavours
The leadership and advocacy skills I gained through the Young Ambassadors program have helped me extend my reach to people who may have never considered illiteracy as a pertaining issue today. Furthermore, the skills I developed in the Young Ambassadors program are applicable to any field, facilitating my growth as a confident, compassionate and capable leader.
After the completion of the program, I endeavoured to use the skills I developed to make a bigger impact in eradicating illiteracy. Along with continuing to raise awareness for literacy issues, I have founded and run a literacy program, where I teach children basic literacy skills necessary for their lives as capable, active members of the community. This program has empowered many children who I hope will one day advocate for the same rights to education that they are privileged to have.
I will continue to advocate for literacy my whole life as it is a significant issue that deserves this attention. I hope that in the future, the action I have taken along with many other literacy ambassadors will create change and increase the accessibility of education to all disadvantaged individuals.
Thinking of applying?
I say you do it! We need more young advocates raising awareness for the important human rights of education and literacy, so other disadvantaged individuals have the opportunity to do the same. The skills you develop and the lessons you learn throughout this course are invaluable and will not only make you grow into a more empathetic and considerate individual but will also help you become an inspirational leader in promoting literacy.
The World Literacy Foundation’s goals are to eradicate illiteracy by 2040. I am grateful to be a part of this worthy movement to give underprivileged individuals the rights to literacy and education which they deserve. Will you be a part of this revolutionary initiative too?
D. (2017) UNESCO: 264 million children don’t go to school | DW | 24.10.2017, DW.COM.
Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/unesco-264-million-children-dont-go-to-school/a-41084932
(Accessed: 10 April 2022).
Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia, 2011 – 2012 (2013).
Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/education/programme-international-assessment-adult-competencies-australia/latest-release
(Accessed: 10 April 2022).
Future Ready Adult Learning 2019 Australia (2019) Oecd.org. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/australia/Future-ready-adult-learning-2019-Australia.pdf
(Accessed: 10 April 2022).
Australia’s children, Literacy and numeracy – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022).
Available at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children/contents/education/literacy-numeracy
(Accessed: 10 April 2022).