Literacy: some facts

 A close-up picture for our game of spotting a difference shows an everyday activity that is taken for granted by most people – writing. Along with reading, this important activity constitutes what is known as ‘literacy’, although in some quarters the term these days includes the skills needed to access knowledge via technology, which means reading numbers and interpreting images.
Functional ‘writing’, which may have emerged as early as 8,000 BCE, must have been a deep-seated human need, for types of writing systems have developed independently four times in history, in Mesopotamia (cuneiform), in Egypt (hieroglyphs), in Central America (pictographic and hieroglyphic) and in China (logosyllabic, where one character represents a word or phrase). The first alphabetic writing system is generally thought to be the Phoenician system, which developed around 1050BC.
UNESCO provides figures for world-wide literacy, the latest of which were compiled in 2015. That year an estimated 86% of people aged 15+ were classed as ‘literate’, with many more men than women being able to read and write. The percentage literacy figure for most ‘western’ countries, including USA and the countries of the EU, were not reported in 2015, but in developing countries it was as low as 19% (Niger), 32% (South Sudan) and 36% (Burkina Faso). Yet globally sub-Saharan African countries averaged 64%, and South and West Asia over 70% literacy, which seems relatively good until you realise that in so-called developed nations the figure is 99.2%
In the UK, to take an example, the National Literacy Trust estimates that 84% of adults are ‘functionally literate’) with a literacy level above that expected of an 11 year old. This still means that 1.7 million adults cannot read and write satisfactorily, a fact that affects their chances of employment and often prevents them helping their own children do better at school. Most of these are more comfortable with reading than writing.
So when you take for granted a simple activity such as that shown in the photo, please spare a thought for the nearly 900 million people world-wide, two thirds of whom are women, who are excluded from reading and writing.