International Literacy Day and the Literacy-Poverty Link

“Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” This is the theme for International Literacy Day on Sept. 8, marking the 50th anniversary of the World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy. Their aim is raising literacy rates across the globe and addressing issues that challenge illiteracy, which is most prevalent in impoverished communities.

The population most affected by illiteracy are students from low-income families.

Studies show there is a significant amount of cognitive brain development while students are in their earlier grades of school, and events such as missing many days of school is a hindrance to this development. Even greater detriments to early development include inadequate nutrition, health issues and the stress of dealing with personal issues, and the literacy-poverty link has its own impact. Many Native American students come from this exact environment.

9.06.16 International Literacy Day copyright - AIRC-Literacy 11-Tayson Williams and mom StephanieA report by UNICEF shows world poverty has spiked in recent years, touching 1 in 10 people. This is an alarming statistic by itself, but poverty rates tend to show a strong connection to literacy rates, as do family abilities to afford higher education. While literacy programs cannot directly address the base issue, they can at least give these students the skills that will help them continue their education, and in the long run, possibly improve economic conditions through broader choices in livelihood. Literacy programs have been shown to improve interest and retention of students, improve workplace production in adults, and improve recidivism rates of inmates, bringing overall benefit across many groups.

Today, literacy programs across the U.S. assist some 200,000 people from ages 8 to 65+.

Although a significant number of people are being reached, some 40 million Americans are hindered by inadequate reading skills. PWNA is doing its part to help alleviate illiteracy, by providing books and incentives to encourage adult-child reading time and literacy development of youth in reservation communities. In 2015, alone, PWNA and its American Indian Education Fund program provided literacy supplies for more than 25,000 Native American students.

I heard a phrase from a friend once, “Education is the new Buffalo.” His meaning? That the ways we can live our lives improves drastically when we are able to improve our skills through education, and these are skills important to every aspect of our lives – the issue being that the opportunity to develop reading and retention skills are sometimes in short supply. In keeping with this year’s theme of International Literacy Day, I’d like to end saying: read the past, and support literacy programs, so that our youth and our society can learn to write their own future.

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