Literacy The Greatest Tool for Universal Opulence

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Illiteracy, especially for children, is a growing concern; particularly among the third world counties. In particular, the most illiterate country in the world, Burkina Faso, located in Western Africa faces alarming illiteracy rates, with their population being only 21.8% literate. In comparison to Canada, Burkina Faso is very far behind in regards to their education system. I believe that education opens many doors, so it is crucial for children who are trying to get their lives on the right track. In Global Development Studies, we are learning about some of these less fortunate countries in relationship to the West, and why there is such an inequality in regards to their quality of life. There is a long history of industrialization and colonization that explains why there are generally more literate populations in developed regions such as Canada in comparison to countries like Burkina Faso. More importantly, I believe that education is directly linked to development; that is the better the education of a region; the more likely they are to develop on their own. It is important that everyone have equal opportunity for education, because"…universal schooling and literacy have been linked to state formation, trade and cultural exchange, urbanization and economic expansion" (Lind & Johnston 1989:9-10). The reason why I have been inspired to pursue this topic is because all throughout high school I was involved in the Free the Children club. Free the Children is an organization that was established by Canadian Craig Kielburger, and their aim is to "free children from poverty and exploitation and free young people from the notion that they are powerless to affect positive change in the world" (2010).They believe that their mission can be achieved through educating the youth, because education is what empowers

people to make a difference. Children are the future, so targeting younger age groups is what will help achieve sustainable development for these developing countries. Every person has the right to sufficient education; so that they can read, write and reach their full potential.

The main reason why I believe that literacy is crucial is because it opens doors, and provides people with more opportunities. Education increases a person's ability to reach their full potential and their likelihood to get hired. As well, as explained on IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis website "every year of education raises a person's income potential by at least 10 percent" (2011). This acquired education contributes to a countries' ability to develop. Canada has a very reliable education system, with primary education provided free to all citizens. There is no surprise that Canada has an impressive literacy rate of 99%, as shown by the Canadian Encyclopaedia (2011). In a sense, the literacy rates of a country determine how developed or underdeveloped each place is. So does that mean if the literacy rates in, for example Burkina Faso, were to increase, that the country would be more likely develop? I believe absolutely yes. Verner (2005:4) considers that literacy not only helps people in the work force, but it also aids physical and emotional well-being. Some of the positive results of education include an increase in income, more awareness of health and decrease in fertility and mortality rates. The most important of all, in my opinion, is that literacy offers more promise for the future; children whose parents are more educated are more likely to be literate themselves.

However to understand why there is a large disconnect in the world in terms of literacy rates, it is important to understand the history of literacy, and how it has evolved over time. Since 1945, the definition of literacy has significantly changed. As explained by Lind and Johnson, (1989:9) literacy originally referred to 'fundamental education," which essentially meant that individuals would need to have basic knowledge to perform regular and daily tasks. However, as time has changed so has the meaning of literacy. Now literacy refers to "education for all", meaning that everyone in the world should have "basic education" in order to succeed. Currently there is a much more dire emphasis put on the importance of education, especially in the third world where it is a goal to "re(gain)…a reformed, more 'relevant' and cost-efficient primary school system" (Lind and Johnston 1989: 9).

As outlined by Jones (1988:6), The United Nations Universal, Scientific and Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) attributes the persistence of third world underdevelopment to three key factors. The first is the division of political and ideological views within their governments, which has hindered their ability to grow. Since there are varying points of views within these governments, it has been difficult for certain countries to find a common ground for improving their education systems. Moreover, the way in which these countries approach development is often too simplistic. In other words, they don't take into account all of the factors that play into achieving their goals. Finally, in my opinion the most prevalent of all, is that UNESCO


believes that the education system is too costly now. As discussed in lectures and tutorials, the international debt crisis left many countries left with un-payable debt, with much money owed to rich countries in the Western world. So these underdeveloped countries currently have limited money to put into programs of their own. As well, in many countries primary schooling requires the purchase of uniforms and school supplies, so families are unable to afford to send their children to school. In the case of Burkina Faso, most secondary schooling is not readily available, and you have to travel either to another village or country to further your education. As a result children are often forced to stay at home and help their parents perform their daily tasks such as cooking and farming. Due to these three factors that UNESCO has outlined, it is clear as to why there has been much difficultly in several third world countries to improve their education systems.

Although there are historical factors that explain why the third world is far behind, I believe that the lack of education of a country plays a large role in determining developed or underdeveloped a country is. Overall, more wealthy countries have better education systems than underdeveloped regions. The history of the Canadian education systems explains why Canada has been able to fully develop and prosper as a country. Even in the 17th and 18th century, there was a strong emphasis put on the importance of education for Canadians. However, this learning didn't necessarily occur in school; rather education was taught at home, as parents passed on their knowledge to their


children, and so on. Although this kind of learning wasn't necessarily with the use of books or texts, parents taught their children essential skills such as cooking and cleaning, so that when they grew up they would have acquired the skills necessary to be successful in the workforce. Over the past centuries, the focus of education has shifted in Canada, and there is a much stronger emphasis put on the schooling system. The fact that education has always been on the foreground of Canadian's experiences proves why the country has been so successful in developing into a wealthy and stable country. All around the world, due to the industrial revolution, the shift to book-smarts from street-smarts has occurred, and many parts of the third world have been left behind.

An example is Burkina Faso, which has a very different history of education in comparison to Canada. Being a colony of France, the country based their education system to be the same as France. However, primary education has never been compulsory for citizens of Burkina Faso, also known as Burkinabes. Instead, at age six, children got enrolled into only six years of primary education. However after that, they were required to take a final exam to determine if they would be able to continue their secondary education, lasting seven years. However, less than one percent ended up enrolling in secondary education, because it involved travelling to France to receive that higher learning, which was quite costly. While there has been some significant success over the past few decades, still only 6% of Burkinabes are enrolled in primary education, in comparison to the 2% that there were in the 1950's.


Although Burkina Faso is still quite behind there is still hope for the future, as shown through local and international initiatives. Many organizations are working hard to overcome the inequality in worldwide literacy rates, both on the local and international level. Locally large numbers of people in Burkina Faso have been organizing fundraisers and community projects to help fund the education system. In 2009-2010 the village of Ouahigouya declared that the year would be their war against illiteracy. Led by parents, teachers and village leaders, organized educational events and programs were made available to the public and particularly targeted towards women and children. For example the community started the Koamba Karem Koamba Tutoring Program, which is very similar to the Big Brother/Big Sister program that is common in Canada. In their local language of Koamba Karem Koamba, older students tutor young students to ensure that "comprehension of class topics focusing on reading and writing - ultimately increasing exam rates and lowering dropouts and repeating of classes." (Higgie: 2010: 1).

However, beyond the local level, people worldwide are working hard to overcome the huge inequalities in literacy rates. On an international level, Free the Children has made considerable progress, building over 650 schools around the world, which has led to over 55,000 children receiving primary education (2010). As several close friends of mine have, there are organized trips to these developing nations to build schools, hospitals and other things that can help improve their quality of life. Even people in Canada and other privileged countries are doing all they can from home to help


initiate change in these communities. Through my four years of involvement in the Free the Children club, I have helped put together school kits, raised money through bake sales and sent letters to these children in need. Although my actions aren't huge and didn't lead to immediate change, I believe that every little bit of work helps. A lot can be accomplished when large sums of people come together to achieve a common goal, so I believe that the importance of literacy should be one of the pressing issues on the international front.

Beyond improvement in personal growth, literacy also leads to increased social, political and economic progress on the global scale. According to Verner, "literacy enhances the human capital stock, increasing economic growth rates and improving social indicators". As well it is "inversely correlated with the costs associated with unemployment, incarceration, criminal proceedings and law enforcement" (2005: 5-6). It is clear that children receiving education have a stronger basis for growth into the future. They will be more likely to positively contribute to economic and social systems, because they will have learned the basic skills required to take part in these particular fields. Verner explains how any amount of schooling can help out in even non-academic professions. He uses the example of farmers in Thailand, and how a study was conducted to compare the success of a farmer with only four years of schooling to another who received very little schooling. The study concluded that the more educated farmers are


more likely to be successful because they "absorb new information more quickly and are more innovative…" (2005, 4- 5).

In closing, I believe that illiteracy is one of the most pressing issues that the world faces on a global scale, and in particular Burkina Faso. There is a long history of what has caused some regions to be more literate than others, as outlined by UNESCO. A lot can still be done to overcome the inequality in literacy worldwide and organizations such as Free the Children are making considerable progress in achieving these goals. Literacy helps people participate in the world's economic system, but it also helps physical and emotional well-being. Overall, literate people are more likely to be healthier, successful, and most importantly pass on their education to future generations. Children are the future, so it is crucial to tackle the issue of child illiteracy first, so that the world can benefit from their contributions.