What is Illiteracy?


Written by Jacalyn Sharp, Senior, Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy

With education being such a diverse topic, it is not surprising that it was the number one subject picked by delegates at the One Young World 2011 Summit in Zurich.   But when we say “education” what are we talking about?  To some special young adults, this means literacy.

On October 19, around 1300 delegates from over 180 countries gathered to talk about the issue of education and literacy at the One Young World 2012 Summit in Pittsburgh. After an extensive presentation on possible solutions to develop higher literacy rates worldwide , a handful of delegates were given a chance to stand up and express their concerns on education, and specifically, illiteracy.

Illiteracy, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is ‘the inability to read or write.’ Yet, young leaders from all over the world see illiteracy as more than just a standard academic hindrance.  They see literacy as the ability to understand and communicate, regardless of medium: technology, values, cultural sustainability, etc.

According to one delegate from Fiji, his society sees literacy as a value and a privilege that is worth more than food and shelter. A delegate from Guinea said that a corrupt government is fully responsible for the poor education system that exists in her country.  In reference to technological literacy among youth, Alberto Matus of Belize asked, “What is the purpose of using technology in education if there are no fruitful results?”

Alberto Matus

Alberto Matus addresses One Young World 2012 Summit during friday’s Plenary Session on education. Photo by Maggie McKean,Senior, Karns City High School.

One delegate from Afghanistan believes internet access would create aware and responsible citizens. (Currently approx. 10 percent of Afghani people can access a computer). In the South Pacific, there is a strong push for awareness to use the Internet and communication devices to preserve indigenous languages and cultures that otherwise would be lost.

Many problems addressed at the One Young World 2012 Summit are derived from illiteracy. Whether it be lack of sex education, no Internet availability, or the inability to write, illiteracy can singularly be defined as one of the biggest issues that the world must confront.

But that is why this incredible group of individuals gathered, to eradicate illiteracy. As a goal, they pledge to take personal responsibility to address this overarching challenge of fighting illiteracy. They will spend their lives fighting to end illiteracy, until death.  Just as OYW young leader Sujit Lalwani said: we are all born human beings, but imagine what it is like to “die a human doing.”

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