Google's blog is highlighting today the importance of World Book Day and The Literacy Project.
Its shocking to think that 1 in 5 adults is illiterate. But as I reminded someone at a party on Saturday night, even if the WHOLE world was literate, a world without books is useless. And Google is doing good by joining UNESCO is attacking the nexus of the problem, books spawn literacy and vice versa, and that is often forgotten.
When I was in High School, I remember going to debate in township schools, and invariably the debate would happen in the 'library'. I use this term partially, since most of these rooms had few if any reading materials, let alone books. Generally there were government sex education comics, a couple of bibles, and possibly a few donated books; but the sheer LACK of books shocked me, and reminded me that literacy without something to read is useless; it becomes nothing but a perfunctory aspect of government action, and not the development of a educated civic collective.
Couple that shock of a LACK of books, with the abundance of books and bookshops in the UK. I never fail to be amazed at how much reading is going on in the UK. It's great for the health of that nation, as an outsider, and surely provides them with a national competitive edge far beyond Monty Python sketches and good television.
Literacy with books leads to better communication. And in an increasingly globalised and competitive world driven by information, and subsequently knowledge, we can't ignore the VITAL nature of good communication (and therefore literacy) in the battle for competitiveness.
Literacy, like the free market, is not a zero sum game. Like trade, the more literate actors in the 'market' of ideas communicated in local communities and the world, comes to benefit all communities in ever greater extends.
Considering this then, should we not be considering the inclusion of literacy as a basic human right. To deny someone access to the well of human ideas, is no different to the denial of good drinking water to the thirsting man. He might be able to survive on muddy waters, but he will only thrive if he has access to the true benefits of the written word, and the education that provides.
The revolution of the printing press cannot overthrow the dangerous ideas in the third world until populations are literate and educated.
It then is a great fear that governments hide their populations from truth by keeping them in a perpetual uneducated, yet partially literate (i.e. no books - such as in many [sadly most] schools in South Africa) state, so as to ensure a fearful and sheepish populace which can be stretched, beaten and oppressed without the knowledge that a better existence awaits them should they strive for freedom and the removal of despots and tyranny.