Literacy Matters

A Message from CODE Executive Director Scott Walter
On International Literacy Day, 2011

Tweets and texts, LinkedIn or logged out, there is a new lexicon of social media literacy to articulate how we can tell a good story or communicate our message. Why sit down with a 300 page book when there are many less time-consuming ways to research a topic or journey to distant places in our mind? It is against this backdrop that the world marks International Literacy Day on September 8 , 2011 and CODE pursues its goal to make interesting and relevant books available to children and youth in developing countries, as it has since 1959.

But does literacy and learning to read and write still matter so much when the tech savvy among us can get to the point in 140 characters and value the efficiency of a text message that reads Don’t4get 2LOL?

Yes, literacy matters as much as ever.

The answer lies in seeing literacy not only as a tool to communicate or convey a message but as a gateway to a way of thinking – critical thinking, problem solving, learning to appreciate different perspectives and search for common ground. Just as technology evolves, the role of literacy evolves to meet the pressing challenges of the day.

For example, the movement away from rote teaching methods toward a more student-centered, active learning approach gained momentum in some parts of the world following the Second World War as educators sought to equip the next generation of workers with a set of skills that encouraged them to be creative, inventive thinkers, and effective communicators able to solve problems and keep pace with modern economies.

I think back to the 1990s and my involvement at the International Reading Association with the “Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking Project” that worked with teachers in 30 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to encourage the adoption of instructional methods based on active inquiry, cooperative learning, and critical thinking. This is an example where literacy was a vehicle to help facilitate democratic development and the transition from centrally-planned to market economies. Teachers and students were encouraged to debate long-held assumptions, engage in higher-level questioning and search for alternative ways to solve problems.

The theme of International Literacy Day 2011 is “Literacy for Peace”. This points to the role that literacy and learning to read and write can play in preventing and mitigating conflict including by helping to alleviate poverty, which can be a root cause of conflict, and by fostering a more informed dialogue. This is yet another example of how literacy can be a positive force for change as communities grapple with the complex issues of the day.

For its part, CODE has introduced Reading CODE, our integrated and comprehensive literacy program, in the post-conflict environments of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Workshops have been organized for teachers, writers and illustrators and we are working to build local publishing capacity to create books in which children in Liberia and Sierra Leone can recognize themselves and their experiences. CODE, together with its partners and volunteers, is building literacy which is helping to encourage cooperative learning, foster peaceful communities and encourage war-affected countries to heal.

I will conclude by returning to today`s digital age and the realm of information technology. With access to such vast amounts of information over the Internet, the question becomes how to develop the analytical skills and higher level questioning needed to discern the essential and important from the unnecessary and superfluous. Here again, literacy can help us rise to the challenge. To make sense of our communications in a world of tweets and texts where stories and messages can take on such an abridged and streamlined form, it can help to have explored the context in greater depth. Pass me that 300 page book!

At CODE we like to say that it is not only about “Learning to Read, but Reading to Learn” – reading to think critically, reading to solve problems, reading to address the challenges and issues of today’s world.

Yes literacy matters. Books matter. So I invite you to Read, Learn, Live!

On September 8th, CODE would like to thank its many volunteers, friends and supporters and wish you a Happy International Literacy Day.

Scott Walter, Executive Director, CODE