A giant leap: Cracking the reading code

 
Text: Solveig Hansen, 2016 / Photo: iStock.com/evgenyatamanenko

1 of 5 people in the world cannot read or write. That is a brutal fact, counting down to the International Literacy Day. It is the birthright of every child to enjoy the joy of reading.

More hard facts: Some 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. One in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. 60.7 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. (Source: Wikipedia)

September 8 is the International Literacy Day, as proclaimed by UNESCO in 1965, with celebrations taking place all around the world. The theme of the 2015 Literacy Day was Literacy and Sustainable Societies. 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the International Literacy Day.

Poetry and story writing, global book clubs, open mic nights, read-a-thons where students read as many books as they can within a week, and even reading to a dog (!) to practice your reading skills. Those are some of the ideas proposed by the World Literacy Foundation, a global not-for-profit organization working to lift young people out of poverty through the power of literacy.

When individuals learn to read and write they have the power to transform their own lives. To help solve socio-economic problems facing society, we must start by building a more literate population. Individuals who know how to read and write are more likely to lift themselves out of poverty, improve their and their family’s health, and sustain long-term employment.
– World Literacy Foundation

 
Not to forget the sheer joy of reading. Do you remember the moment when you cracked the reading code? I do. I was five. Every child has the right to experience that sensation.

 
A GIANT LEAP

Some moments in life are more pivotal than others. One is when we take our first steps and stand proudly on our own two feet, ready to conquer the world. Another is when we learn to read. I was five when I finally figured out what the words in the books said. I remember how frustrated I had been because I knew all the letters, but I couldn’t combine them into words.

One day I made an extra effort and read each letter in a story slowly, pronouncing them and trying to put them together: a-a-a l-l-l… Then, all the sudden, the door flung open, letters formed into words, words formed into stories. You know how it is when the fog lifts and you suddenly see the vast landscape around you, or when you draw back the curtains in the morning to have a first look over a new city you arrived at only the night before… that’s how it felt, looking back.

It was a life-changing moment. I became literate from one second to the next, literally. One instant I was just an ordinary earthly child, the next an explorer in a new world that opened up before me. I know exactly what Neil Armstrong must have felt the moment he put his foot on the lunar surface. A giant leap. Nothing less.

Not that I reflected on it at the time. I did not cheer, I did not even bother to tell anyone about my new found skills. I just felt a silent satisfaction and thought, “Finally. About time.”

The first thing I read was a Donald Duck magazine. I lay flat on my back.

 
The history of International Literacy Day
UNESCO: International Literacy Day 2016
UNESCO Literacy Website
Winners of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2015
World Literacy Foundation
World Literacy Foundation on Facebook
The Malala Fund
Worldreader: Bringing digital books to children

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