Over a year ago, I learned a startling fact: there are over 796 million adults in the world that cannot read and two out of three of them are women.
It gave me great pause to wonder what it’s like not to be able to read as an adult. If you’ve ever travelled in a country where the language and alphabet is radically different than your own, you might have a small sense of it.
Wondering what it would be like not to be able to absorb the written word I thought of what Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in ‘Infidel’, her own journey out of Somalia and later away from a fundamentalist Muslim tradition. Ali made the point that her journey began in books. She saw the world from a different perspective and realized that the one she had been taught from childhood was only one such view. Reading created choice and in that, freedom. Perhaps that is the ultimate gift of reading – the ability to step into another worldview and to discover.
Our failure as global citizens to assure every member has access to education and a human right to learn is something I think can be corrected. The availability of classrooms with quality teachers is a goal within reach for the millions of children around the world and global efforts are underway to meet that goal. At the same time, however, there are millions of adults who cannot read and will not have access to adult education. And it is estimated that a new generation of some 122 million young adults (15-22) are likely to follow in these footsteps of illiteracy.