2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the celebration of the International Day of Literacy which was established in 1966. UNESCO sought to “actively mobilise the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.”
UNESCO says the following about Literacy: Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy. Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.
Many of us take literacy for granted but millions of children and adults around the world do not have this basic skill and their lives are poorer for this. We think automatically of reading, writing and numeracy and certainly Sustainable Development Goal 4 endeavours to address this and seeks to ensure that youth has a good basic education to the end of secondary school, thus ensuring the likelihood of a productive future.
Most children in economically developed countries have good basic literacy and a well- developed visual literacy because they watch television, play video games and are alert to messages being conveyed by sound tracks. What of children and youth who do not complete basic schooling, have no access to books or are not encouraged to read? Their literacy lags and the implications of this delay have consequences for development of their countries.
In a world where technology can dominate employment, advertising, leisure and certainly news every person needs information literacy. The need to know how to identify what they wish to know, where to locate information, how to assess its validity, how to apply it and how to select and acknowledge sources are vital steps to critical thinking. This is vital in many societies where only one message is received or access to a range of information is not possible.
Soroptimist clubs see education as central to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and assist children and adults in a variety of ways to become literate in many areas. Below are some examples of work being undertaken by clubs in our Federation.
Promoting Literacy Through Local Community Projects
SI Randwick & Eastern Suburbs, Australia - LaParouse: Community Library.
SI Randwick & Eastern Suburbs undertook a literacy project with LaPerouse, a local public school. Children were not using a poorly organized library, students had low reading ability and social interaction was limited among many children.
The Principal was happy to accept the club’s offer to help. Members cleaned and reorganized the library room to make it more appealing and accessible. Four members undertook to go in one day a week to open the library and provide reading and associated activities. Two members undertook one on one reading with younger children. The library is now well used, reading levels have improved and there is more positive social interaction. A community book box was constructed and installed at the front of the school and filled with books. The goal for this box is to make reading and books available to all children, especially those in deprived social and economic circumstances. The book box is designed to bring reading into the homes of all adults and children living in the LaPerouse community.
SI Devonport, Australia - Literacy and Learning for a whole Year.
SI Devonport had a project that arose from the local mayor’s decision that, in their town, there should be a focus on Literacy and Learning for 12 months.
This somewhat unexpected decision needed some outside the box thinking on implementation and the mayor approached the club for their support. A project was designed to help encourage reading in children outside of schooling hours and this included the idea of distributing children’s books within hairdressers salons.
Children could read while their hair was being cut. As part of the project, children were encouraged to read to the hairdresser and receive 50 cents for their savings. SI Devonport purchased over 100 books. Members covered these books, put a Soroptimist sticker in each book and then distributed them to 10 to 12 hair salons within the local area. Hairdresser salons reported that children use these books often and the opportunity to read for pleasure is a valuable use of time.
SI Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia - English Reading Hunt
SI Kota Kinabalu’s English Reading Hunt promoted literacy at SK Rampayan, a poor English performing school in a disadvantaged area. Their approach was to make English fun. They liaised with the school’s Literature Department on the selection of 4 different books over one year.
Teachers were advised on different techniques and a variety of activities and all the study culminated in an Treasure Hunt/ Amazing Race type of activity designed to check vocabulary and students’ understanding of the book. It has been very successful.
SI Maylands Peninsular, Australia - Women and Prison
SI Maylands Peninsula has a large joint project on Women and Prison. From this project an adjacent small “pop up” project arose out of a visit to the prison and the area where families waited before being admitted to visit inmates.
Children waiting to visit their mother had nothing to do so the club decided that a book and a library bag which the child could keep would be useful. Members sewed scores of bags and purchased books to go in them. These were given to the children to read. They were then also available for mothers to read to their children and the library bags meant that these children were now able to borrow from their school libraries.
SI Labasa, Fiji - Financial Literacy
SI Labasa saw the need within a local but remote community for inhabitants to learn about budgeting and finance. With the cooperation of the local school and the nearest bank manager they ran a seminar to show the importance of understanding money, how to open an account and save regularly. Community members were shown how to budget, women were encouraged to access micro credit and children learned how to save. Having these skills had a profound effect on the viability of the community and their ability to create effective businesses and deal with potential financial problems.