International Education Week: Partnering to Improve World Literacy

Cross-posted from USAID’s Impact Blog.

Today, the global community faces an economic crisis that has many people around the world feeling tenuous about the future. World leaders are grappling with how to handle rising debt and shrinking funds. Yet despite this uncertainty, one thing is certain: education is still the light shining on our path that shows us the way forward. Education, now more than ever, is critical to eliminating gender inequity, reducing starvation, sustaining our planet, and restoring world peace.

As countries improve the education of their citizens, they experience huge multiplier effects: better health, growing economies, and reduced poverty. The data show us that a child born to an educated mother is two times more likely to survive to age 5 . . . that educated mothers are fifty percent more likely to immunize their children and three times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS. Every year that a child spends in school increases his or her future productivity by 10-30%.

When we think of how much a country gains in terms of goods and services by investing in 6, 12, or even 14 years of education for its workforce, how can we all not make that investment?

As part of this investment, I am pleased to announce today that the U.S. Department of Education will be joining USAIDWorld Vision and AustraliaAID in the All Children Reading initiative as well. As a new partner, we will collaborate with the founding partners as they work to dramatically improve world literacy. We are joining this work because we also believe that enhancing the education of all people, both at home and abroad, is a path to solving our world’s economic, social, and health problems.

The All Children Reading Challenge’s focus on improving literacy could not come at a better time. If education is the answer, then literacy is the foundation upon which we must build our countries’ well being. Not only are reading and writing critical to learning all other subjects, but literacy is what enables people to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. Literacy opens doors to better living conditions, improved health, and expanded opportunities. It empowers people to build more secure futures for their families.

To get serious about literacy, we have to realize that the challenges of achieving an educated citizenry cut across geographical and political boundaries. Educators everywhere, including in the U.S., are concerned about the growing achievement gaps that exist for the poorest of our children, including those with learning disabilities and speakers of other languages.

Working together and collaborating to solve our common problems is critical. In our global economy, the tired old “survival of the fittest” philosophy that pits countries against one another no longer applies. Instead, we have to recognize that the battle is not between our countries, but with complacency.

I look forward to seeing what innovative programs and practices come out of this All Children Reading Challenge. I couldn’t be happier to see these organizations make an investment in the literacy of the children of the world, and I am hopeful that we in the U.S. will learn some innovative strategies that can make a difference for us here.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education


  1. The All Children Reading Challenge is such an effective way for the United States to establish essential bonds with other nations and prove that we are serious about aiding those less fortunate than us. The power of literacy is often underestimated. Reading is the simplest way we can empower the oppressed or disadvantaged to help themselves. Literacy opens doors to resources that an individual may have not known about or had access to before and educates an individual on the issues surrounding them. A person can make informed decisions about the well-being of themselves and their families as a result. The recent Arab Spring is just one example of the effect well-informed, literate citizens can have on the world around them. The Arab Spring movement was aided by people like Esraa Abdel Fattah, the “Facebook Girl”, who tweeted and updated her experiences in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and used social media to organize the revolt. Imagine how different many of the outcomes in Arab Spring might have been if Fattah or the thousands of people who followed along had been illiterate and unable to be educate themselves on their rights or send updates about the revolt to one another. Literacy is one of the best ways we can pave the road for democracy around the world and it starts one person at a time.

    • Of course, reading can help anyone do anything, not only in the sense that it can change a sequence of events, but it can bring a better understanding to people on simpler matters in life. A tweet, facebook message, a blog can influence a person’s mind and heart even more so than a book can. However, books can save our lives with the right words, like the Bible has for so many. The problem is, how can we get older children to read? You are more likely to find a child of the ages 5-7 reading a book than you can any child in grades 9-12. It’s deeply concerning to see and hear the speech and actions of highschoolers, and middle schoolers, and think that there is nothing we can do to change them. They are practically adults, rebelling against the world, and secretly themselves. All they hear is, “No one’s going to help you after highschool.”

      What can we do for them now, instead of repeating the same sentence?

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