Literacy is crucial to the success of individuals in both their career aspirations and their quality of life. It is more than a basic reading ability. It is an indication of how adults use written information to function in society. Having strong literacy skills are closely linked to the probability of having a good job, decent earnings, and access to training opportunities. Individuals with weak literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or, if employed, to be in jobs that pay little or that offer poor hours or working conditions.
Traditionally, literacy is referred to the ability to read, understand, and use information. However the term has come to take on broader meaning, standing for a range of knowledge, skills and abilities relating to reading, mathematics, science and more. This reflects widespread and deep changes that have taken place in technology and in the organisation of work over the past quarter century. The ability to use and apply key mathematics and science concepts is now necessary across a wide range of occupations.
Literacy is fundamental for learning in school. It has an impact on an individual's ability to participate in society and to understand important public issues. And it provides the foundation upon which skills needed in the labour market are built.
Technology, and the science behind it, permeates all aspects of our lives, from how we work and communicate to what we shop for and how we pay our bills. The complexity of today's world means that individuals need to have some level of proficiency in reading, mathematics and science in order to understand and participate fully in economic and social life.
A population's literacy skills also have a bearing on how well a country performs economically. The world we live in today is vastly different from that of a generation ago. Technological changes have transformed the way in which we work and the labour market is rapidly evolving from a manufacturing and agricultural base to one based on services. These changes have, in turn, brought rising skill requirements. Countries that are successful in endowing their populations with strong skills are usually in a better position to meet the economic challenges of operating in a globalised information economy.
Finally, having a population that has strong literacy skills also places a country in a better position to meet the complex social challenges that it faces. For example, strong literacy skills are linked to better health outcomes for individuals. A highly literate population will be better able to deal with issues of governance in a highly diverse society.
As I write I am on my way to Mauritius on holiday. A nice break away from work and Rotary matters. A week full of sun, sea and fun. Reading through the morning’s newspaper I note that this week (14th - 21st March) has been declared Library Week in South Africa. Libraries connect people to each other to knowledge and information. It provides access to information on every subject matter including health and hygiene, economic empowerment, poverty alleviation, education and much more. All of these are focus areas within our wonderful organisation. Libraries also provide us with an opportunity to connect via the internet through online learning opportunities using research tools. Like all things that have evolved over the years libraries too have evolved. They no longer just provide a place where we borrow books and after a period, return them. It is a place of technology and information in our fast moving environment.
Libraries are rather special to me. My first job after my secondary schooling was at the local Durban library as a library assistant. I spent three years there learning the various aspects of library science including the Dewey decimal system which system classifies books according to their field of interest. It was also the place that allowed me the opportunity of starting my academic studies on a part time basis whilst having this job to fund it.
Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and harmony. It is for this reason that literacy is the core of education for all.
Rotary provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share, to give a gift, to take responsibility together and to encourage others. It also provides us with an opportunity to improve the skills of people so that they are given a better chance of success after all we all have the same dreams, hopes, needs and goals.
Natty MoodleyRotary Africa