Information and stories about Literacy Information.

US Education
The U.S. public education system focuses on a century-old model that was originally designed to educate factory workers. While American public education has made many reforms throughout the years, student performance has remained stagnant.

The National Center on Education and the Economy suggests that the U.S. should look abroad for inspiration to fuel education reforms, including expanding national standards for curriculum, administering smarter and fewer tests and improving teacher quality and salaries.

U.S. Ranks Low in Test Scores

Students from the U.S., China, South Korea, Finland, Australia and many other countries took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to measure their skills in reading, math and science. The test is administered to 15-year-olds every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Among the 65 participating countries, the U.S. ranked 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.

The U.S. average scores in the three testing sections have not changed much from previous testing years. On the other hand, Shanghai, for example, has turned itself into an education powerhouse in three decades. The biggest focus in Shanghai and other top education performing countries is the quality of teaching.

Finland and Shanghai Inspire Higher Standards

The country with the most rigorous standards for teachers is Finland, closely followed by Shanghai. In Finland, one in ten applicants for teacher training programs are accepted. The training programs take five or more years to complete, and you must have a master’s degree to be considered for the program. In Shanghai, teachers must have a degree in the field they wish to teach, even at an elementary school level.

Teachers in Shanghai are mentored from the beginning of their career, by a master teacher. Throughout their career, teachers continue to meet with their mentors to improve their professional development.

Teacher Quality

While it is important for students to learn in a structured environment, it is equally important for teachers to have a structured environment in which to improve their teaching. Teachers in Shanghai can expect to be observed 20-30 times each year – a facet of teacher training that may seem daunting to teachers in the West.

The education system in Shanghai does not succeed based on any of the sole factors, but rather by a combination of all of these factors. The system still has its drawbacks, but the U.S. can learn a lot from the Shanghai education system.

If the U.S. puts as much money into teacher training as it does into reducing class size and creating charter schools, the country will improve its scores and be among European and Asian students who are currently outperforming U.S. students.

A sample of the PISA test is available here

– Haley Sklut

Sources: San Jose Mercury News, Parenting, National Center for Education Statistics, Forbes
Photo: The Week

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, has long been a champion of increased literacy around the world. Since 1946, the specialized agency of the United Nations has fostered educational programs that “further universal respect for justice and the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion.”

Unfortunately for UNESCO and its benefactors, namely impoverished citizens of third world nations, developing countries’ “legacy of illiteracy” has made their mandate harder to achieve. Educational institutions remain highly inaccessible and a poor quality of education has left an estimated 175 million young black people without basic literacy skills.

Disproportionately, illiteracy affects women at a much higher rate than men. Women constitute 2/3 of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults, a fact contributable to underwhelming rates of female school enrollment.

The organization’s annual report titled, “Education for All Global Monitoring Report,” indicated an alarmingly high global illiteracy rate, with one in four youths in developing countries unable to read a sentence.

In the report’s foreword, Unesco director-general Irina Bokova asks for greater assistance in fighting illiteracy, including increased funding and an overhaul of problematic teaching practices.

“As this Report shows, equality in access and learning must stand at the heart of future education goals,” said Bokova. “We must ensure that all children and young people are learning the basics and that they have the opportunity to acquire the transferable skills needed to become global citizens.”

According to the report, an estimated 57 million children do not have access to schools, while 250 million of the children that are enrolled do not learn basic skills, despite half of them already having four years of experience at school. These 250 million children represent $126 billion in wasted educational funds, states the report.

Part of this problem originates in poor standards of teaching. Of 162 countries evaluated, 26 had a pupil/teacher ratio in primary education in excess of 40:1, 23 of which were located in sub-Saharan Africa. However, simply increasing the number of teachers is not a solution unto itself. Hiring qualified teachers is essential to promoting literacy and remains one of Unesco’s main objectives.

In view of these results, Unesco stresses the importance literacy and education has on the rest of the UN’s developmental goals.

“Educate mothers, and you empower women and save children’s lives. Educate communities, and you transform societies and grow economies,” said Bokova.

Emily Bajet

Sources: The Guardian, unicef, UNESCO, UNESCO, UNESCO
Photo: Kibae Park

Technology has, over the years, come to run our lives.  We rely upon it for anything ranging from healthcare innovation to entertainment.  Even now, you are reading this article that was composed on a computer for you to read on the Internet.  No paper newsletter for you.

It is precisely because technology is so all-encompassing for us that the following statistic is so shocking: 1 billion adults worldwide are illiterate.  Equaling 26% of the world’s total adult population, there are 1 billion people who cannot partake in the reading of this article, which you may be taking for granted.

Technology may have made reading and writing even more accessible in our sphere but in lesser-developed areas, such advancements are not seen.  According to UNESCO, the entire continent of Africa has a literacy rate of less than 60%.  Compare that to the 99% literacy rate in the United States.

However, there is hope.

Numerous organizations are dedicated to eradicating illiteracy. Here are five of the top literacy initiatives worldwide.

1. ProLiteracy

The mission statement of ProLiteracy is a perfect articulation of why literacy should be on the forefront of global advocacy: “…when individuals the world over learn to read, write, do basic math and use computers, the more likely they are to lift themselves out of poverty.”  The organization makes literacy for women in developing nations as a top action addressed by their donations and programs.

2. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

UNESCO hosts a “LitBase” website, which chronicles programs worldwide that have been successful in combating illiteracy.  In doing so, UNESCO hopes to have a go-to source for advocates interested in starting or joining the cause.

3. World Literacy Foundation

The World Literacy Foundation was founded in 2003 to promote awareness of illiteracy by bringing together various government organizations and NGOs.  Some of the programs championed by the Foundation include the Write On English writing competition in Azerbaijan, founding the Centre of Hope computer center in Uganda and the USAID-supported Fantastic Phonics computer program.

4. Global Literacy Project

A key program of the Global Literacy Project is the shipment of books and basic educational supplies throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.  The Walk-for-Literacy fundraiser housed at Rutgers University is run through the Global Literacy Project as well.


Founded at the University of Pennsylvania through a partnership with UNESCO, (formerly the Literacy Research Center) has been training teachers and advocates of literacy since 1983. also hosted a summer intensive workshop in Philadelphia for mid-career professionals interested in promoting literacy in developing countries.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: ProLiteracy, UNESCO LitBase, World Literacy Project, Global Literacy Project,
Photo: Vintage 3D

One in six girls in the developing world will not complete an education past the sixth grade.  Add this sobering statistic to shocking numbers which illustrate that the entire continent of Africa has less than a 60% literacy rate, and one can see just how many challenges in completing an education the youth of the developing world face.  However, girls in particular face an even greater challenge due to the widespread gender inequalities that still exist.

Girls Learn International (GLI) is a nonprofit, student-run organization and movement that encourages U.S. students to promote education for women throughout the world.  Lisa Alter founded the movement with her two teenage daughters in 2003.  Alongside Arielle and Jordana, Lisa began to inspire various youths to get involved in humanitarianism and women’s rights while still in school.  As a result, GLI currently has 114 chapters in over 26 states across the country. GLI also boasts partnerships with 47 schools in 11 countries, including Afghanistan, India, and Ghana.

Countries not providing equal access to education for women will end up losing out on $92 billion for their respective economies, according to Girls Learn International.  Additionally, 7 million cases of HIV/AIDS could be prevented if every child received a primary education, hence why GLI lives by the creed, “Women’s Education is a Basic Human Right.”

Furthermore, GLI has numerous partnerships and sponsors.  GLI is part of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the  Feminist Campus, and is a sister organization to Ms. Magazine.  The organization has also partnered with the Global Campaign for Education’s U.S. Chapter while also fielding a delegation to the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women.

The organization seeks to empower young women and have them take initiatives towards working for global education.  However, gender equality cannot be achieved without the contributions of idealistic young men as well.  To drive this point home, GLI boasts having an all boys’ chapter in Pennsylvania.  Regardless of gender, if you are a young person interested in providing education for women everywhere, GLI is the organization for you.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Girls Learn International, Global Campaign for Education
Photo: The Alternative Press