Knowledge is Power
Literacy is a skill that most of those who possess it take for granted. The majority of our generation in the Western Hemisphere were taught to do basic maths, as well as read and write in our mother tongue, at a very early age, and by the time we enter adulthood we no longer consciously appreciate the tremendous gifts that we have been given. Thanks to our education, most of us are capable of looking at abstract symbols and extracting complex meaning from them, forming words and equations, to further our knowledge, and perhaps pass it on to others in turn. Literacy has become essential to our way of life. Think about how intrinsic reading and writing is to your daily life. Emails, texts, road signs, directions, the internet, resumes, menus, exams…the list is endless. Simple equations are prevalent in for most of us as well, in everything from calculating budgets, to sorting out your taxes.
Imagine what it would be like to look at the words in this article and not understand their context. If you’ve ever seen something written in a writing system that you are not familiar with, perhaps Arabic, Japanese, or Cyrillic, you might understand the confusion and frustration that those symbols can generate in those who cannot read them. You know that they have meaning, but you simply cannot access it. Education is the only solution to this lack of understanding, and it’s to our shame that a significant amount of children and young adults in Ireland are not receiving the teaching that they need and deserve.
A 2016 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based on data from 2012, revealed that a fifth of Irish university graduates have difficulty with tasks involving complex literacy. The same report showed that in the 16- to 19- year-old age group of 23 countries, Ireland was ranked one of the lowest in literacy and numeracy, 18th of 23, and 21st out of 23, respectively. This needs to be improved, through both increased adult education opportunities, and an improved focus on providing sufficient education to children. Suas Educational Development, an educational charity registered in Ireland, reports that 75% of 9-year-olds who have issues with literacy will have some difficulty with it for the rest of their lives. This dramatically limits their eventual employment opportunities, and directly impacts their overall life satisfaction, so the priority becomes giving these children the skills they will need before they reach this benchmark.
The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) is an Irish charity that seeks to eradicate adult illiteracy, and currently has roughly 54000 adults attending its courses nationwide, provided by 1500 paid teachers and over 2400 volunteers. NALA has done an extraordinary amount of good in this country, enabling many disadvantaged people to change and improve their lives through the classes they provide.
The Suas Education Development, or simply Suas, has dedicated itself at both a national and an international level to providing improved education for children in disadvantaged schools. 1 out of 10 Irish children have serious difficulties with literacy, but this number can rise to 1 out of 3 in disadvantaged schools, where resources are more limited and teacher’s attention more divided amongst larger classes. Suas counters this by training volunteers to give one-on-one mentoring to students, and by giving the children access to extensive learning materials. They have helped over 3500 children in Ireland since 2012, with an estimated improvement rate of over 250% in reading progress, and are in the process of expanding their work. Their stated goal is to reach 10000 children in disadvantaged areas within the next three years, which would make a significant dent in the national illiteracy rate, and they are well on their way to success.
At the end of the day, there are few greater gifts than knowledge, because it enables people to help themselves. The old saying goes: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for the rest of his life.” Give children the skills and tools that will enable them to educate themselves, and they will go on to change the world. It really is as simple as that.
Brian Cassidy holds a BA in World Religions and Theology, and an LLM in International Humanitarian Law, Peace Operations, and Conflict. He is dedicated to raising awareness about International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and the International Refugee Crisis, along with a few other topics, through writing and discussion.