Despite the progress achieved globally, literacy challenges persist with 771 million illiterate people across the world, most of whom women, still lack basic reading and writing skills and are faced with increased vulnerability. The global literacy rate for women is 81 per cent and 89 per cent for men. This includes children as well without a basic understanding of how to read and write even in their mother tongue. Not to forget, India has the largest population of 287 million illiterate adults. It is equal to 37 per cent of the world’s total population.
This is the reason celebrating International Literacy Day is important for India. International Literacy Day is observed on September 8 every year since 1967. This year’s theme is "Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces”.
Literacy is a key lever of change and a practical tool of empowerment on pillars of sustainable development: Economic, social and environmental protection. It provides us with a sense of self-worth and dignity. The theme also gives importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, human rights, environment and inclusive education for all people, communities and societies.
It is no secret that education can open multiple doors of opportunity for people and is one of the most powerful tools for eliminating poverty, ensuring prosperity, improvement of the environment and progress of the society.
Lack of literacy skills restricts social participation at all ages, preventing adults and children from fully participating in society and contributing to its progress. Reading, writing and working with numbers on a daily basis maintains brain cells healthy as we age, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life, according to studies.
The most illiterate regions of the world are often at the highest-risk to feel the impacts of climate change. Many do not have the education to feel empowered to change their situation. Just this year, rural areas in many parts of the world, hardest hit, continue to face drought conditions, pushing people into cities looking for meagre work and easy money.
The world’s indigenous peoples who are mostly illiterate occupies 28 per cent of the global land and reside in and around 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and make up 500 million which is less than five per cent of the world's population but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. Thus illiteracy is the biggest challenge to our present environment. With the reality of a changing climate, the need for comprehensive environmental and climate education has never been greater. But the goals to increase climate education cannot exist without literacy.
Literacy empowers individuals and communities. It gives them access to knowledge beyond their everyday networks to read the newspaper, to go online to read articles, and to be part of an intellectual network to make smart choices about recycling, composting, food safety and sustainable actions that illiterate populations are not typically able to make.
Illiteracy confines people. This population does not have as many resources to make decisions about climate change and sustainability. Individuals must rely on the people around them and media outlets to interpret climate change and its data. It should be our objective that all people worldwide are environmentally and climate literate. Efforts to increase environmental literacy around the world will make a climate sustainable earth.
Climate literacy in the next generation will ensure a foundation of knowledge and discourse as society faces how to best deal with a changing climate. It is certain that environmental knowledge will pave a path for a better societal life. The earth needs people who understand the climate system and know how to apply that knowledge in their careers and in their communities. So, in this modern world, if you can’t read messages on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and send back a message or can’t order anything from the menu of a restaurant, or read basic traffic instructions or hospital guidelines, then it will mean you being blind. Thus, literacy can now be termed the confidence that need the basic environmental knowledge.
Therefore on this International Literacy Day, 2022, we need to equip the society with literacy and basic environmental knowledge. The fact is, the planet is boiling now and with the changes in our habits and the Environmental knowledge, we can save the mother earth for the future generation.
(The views expressed are personal)