By Mara Greenberg, Senior, Taylor Allderdice
According to United Nations’ data, 82% of the world is literate. Across country lines, the literacy rate varies from a high of 100% to a low of approximately 20%. To ensure that total literacy becomes a reality for all, One Young World is taking action.
An organization devoted to empowering youth across the globe, One Young World holds an annual summit of approximately 1300 young professionals, called delegates, and focuses on a variety of issues facing the global community. Located in Pittsburgh this year, One Young World decided to include a plenary session focusing on literacy and education for the first time.
One Young World, in a survey conducted before the summit commenced, found that 67% of young people believe that literacy rates are holding back adequate growth in their countries and that 85% are concerned with literacy rates in general.
In a world where the “most basic, fundamental right is education,” according to Belizean computer technician and One Young World delegate Alberto Matus, these data are disheartening. Thus, delegates believe that education must be prioritized — not just the traditional literacy of reading and writing but technological literacy as well.
According to the delegates, as the world fully enters the digital age, technological literacy is becoming just as important as being able to read and write. If children are taught basic academics but are never shown a computer, they will be just as lost in the developed world as if they had never learned to use pen and paper.
Therefore, delegates are spearheading initiatives designed to increase the quality of traditional and technological education in their countries. Delegates from the developing world have worked to distribute textbooks to schools, provide Internet access for students and educate the disabled, among other ventures and projects.
Catherine Uwimana, a native Rwandan, strives to empower and educate girls through her organization, Ibaba, while Spaniard Ester Botica Alonso works with at-risk youth in a high-unemployment area of Madrid. Ahmad Affandi of Indonesia teaches at a school for the deaf, mute and those affected with Down syndrome, and countless other delegates head or are involved with initiatives of their own.
Despite this increased progress, the world is still a place where a fourteen year old girl can be shot simply for asserting her right to an education. Citing the example of Malala Yousafzai, the delegates believe that it is clear that the issues underlying poor literacy and education must be addressed as well. Inequality is perhaps at the root of every barrier that restricts access to education.
Inequality permeates every society; it is the impetus behind Yousafzai, but its perpetuation is the driving force behind her attackers — the Taliban. Afghani delegates believe that the rampant illiteracy in their country entices young men to join the Taliban — much like high school dropouts in low socioeconomic areas of the world may choose join a street gang.
Throughout the world, it is clear that unequal access severely opposes educational progress. Thus, it is fitting that Pittsburgh was chosen to inaugurate the education plenary session of One Young World as the city is devoted to ensuring that its students receive college educations.
Pittsburgh Public Schools offers a scholarship to each of its students known as the Pittsburgh Promise. Graduates from any of the Pittsburgh Public Schools will receive $10,000 a year for four years to further their educations, provided that they attend a Pennsylvania school.
The Promise is specifically geared towards students who may not be able to attend college without financial aid and acts as an incentive to keep teenagers enrolled in high school. However, a barrier to education common in the developed world is making the applicability of the Promise uncertain.
Across the United States, education is being defunded. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett’s budget for the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year involved reducing public school funding by over $900 million dollars. None of this amount was restored in the 2012 to 2013 budget.
Pittsburgh Public Schools’ funding was reduced by $34.1 million. Budget cuts have manifested in fewer teachers, larger class sizes and lesser quality materials. Tests scores have dropped, and there is some question as to whether the Pittsburgh Promise will be able to help those it is designed to reach.
According to former President Bill Clinton, an education system must be sustainable if it is to be practically implemented. Though the West will continue to maintain its education systems, the quality of those systems cannot be preserved in the face of extreme economic crises and budget cuts.
In several parts of the developed world, standardized test scores are falling as reading comprehension decreases even while dropout rates hover at relatively low levels. Individuals are technologically literate but are not wholly literate in the traditional sense of the word. In contrast to developing countries, technology is not a novelty but rather, an integral part of daily life, and it is the arts, humanities and sciences that fall by the wayside.
Canadian One Young World delegate Steve Mitchelmore has a means of mitigating the affects of underfunding education in developed countries through his work with Pathways to Education, a foundation that supports elementary and high school students academically, financially and socially and provides them with mentors.
Pathways’ studies have found that for every dollar the organization invests in supporting Canadian youth, the economy as a whole experiences a return of twenty-five dollars. As Mitchelmore said, “The benefits [of education] are real.”