As we have all noticed, March has arrived and in the cycle of the Rotary theme months, March is Literacy Month. When the concept of theme months commenced back in 1983 literacy was considered so important that it was the theme to start the Rotary year and July was the dedicated month. Along the way, the penny dropped that there was rather a lot happening in July with changes of administration and new club Boards settling in.
Literacy is not only a significant goal for Rotary but it is also a special goal for Rotary because we know that literacy is a key factor in overcoming poverty and all that goes with it. Rotary considers it to be so important that it is one of the 6 areas of focus for The Rotary Foundations Future Vision – basic education and literacy.
The statistics are really shocking. UNESCO estimates there are 860 million illiterate adults in the world and about two thirds of them are women. Millions more are functionally illiterate, without the reading and writing skills necessary for everyday life. The United Nations has identified illiteracy as a major obstacle to economic, political, and social development.
UNESCO notes that literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding of the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict. The connection between literacy and peace can be seen in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries where it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment. How appropriate that in this year of Peace through Service we try harder to make a sustainable difference.
Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General notes that “Education brings sustainability to all the development goals, and literacy is the foundation of all learning. It provides individuals with the skills to understand the world and shape it, to participate in democratic processes and have a voice, and also to strengthen their cultural identity”.
I’m quoting from UNESCO as they succinctly identify that “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. There are good reasons why literacy is at the core of education for all.
A good quality basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development”.
UNESCO does have a major focus on International Literacy Day on September 8 each year. By making it a focus for a whole month Rotary puts the matter into real perspective, a day is not nearly enough.
It is not enough to have focus without action. All through the Rotary year clubs are involved in many projects that have education as a priority but in March it is an opportunity to take a closer look at the challenge.
I hope that individual clubs will look at how they can make a difference in raising literacy standards and adopt significant programs that will make a difference.
As a district in recent years we have probably not provided the sort of support for literacy programs that is provided for clubs in many important other program areas. This Rotary year through our Club Service Committee we have tried to raise the profile of literacy programs and have provided many suggestions for how this could be achieved.
This year we have found the facts confronting. We know and expect that there is a major problem in developing countries but for too long we have ignored a problem right on our own doorstep, and that is the problem of illiteracy amongst our own indigenous people. Did you know that national literacy testing shows that 80% of aboriginal children in regional and remote communities are in the bottom 5% of all Australian children?
As a District we have an opportunity to work together in a really simple program that has the capacity to make a significant impact in addressing this issue.
The idea is to purchase and/or collect new picture story books, easy fiction and non-fiction books for children 0-12 years. To make it easier, bring them along to the Literacy Stall in the Albury Conference Market Place. We will add a sticker to indicate that they have been given by your club and at the conclusion of the Conference they will be donated to the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation.
Why the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation. This Foundation provides weekly one-on-one literacy tutoring to Indigenous children struggling to make literacy gains at school. They provide Indigenous Literacy and Heritage Camps to fast track literacy and numeracy learnings for significantly disadvantaged students. These programs are provided by a dedicated team of volunteers and paid tutors. The Patron of the Foundation is Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor – General of the Commonwealth of Australia
The Foundation also supplies books and literacy backpacks to children in remote communities to encourage them in their educational journey. They fund education scholarships for Indigenous young people to give them the best possible start and greater educational opportunities.
They conduct literacy testing for Indigenous children to enable early intervention and tailored support. Through many of the Foundation’s campaigns they create community awareness with the aim of closing the poverty gap.
Here is an opportunity to partner with another organisation that can make a direct impact through the direct effort of Rotary and Rotarians.
It would be a wonderful show of our commitment to “Literacy for All” if every club made a contribution; and it would certainly help to address the problems faced by many aboriginal children.
We have suggested the Conference as the deposit point for books to minimise logistical issues but to also provide the focus that a large stack of books will bring. If you have not thought about this simple but effective program may I urge you to put it into action? If you are not coming to conference you will know someone who is.
Finally, it is not too late to still come to the conference. We will hold registration open right up to the conference and indeed I’m pleased to say that people are still registering. Now that the speaker list has been published I’m sure that you will all agree that there is something for everyone and a lot for most attendees. Your Conference Committee has worked really hard to make this a memorable, affordable and easily accessible conference – so, see you in Albury!