Did you know that 20% of the world’s population is illiterate?
Well, did you know that 66% of those illiterate people are women?
Did you know that as a whole the continent of Africa has less than a 60% literacy rate?
Did you know that even though 98% of the world’s illiterate people are concentrated in three main area’s – South and West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab states – developed nations are also facing growing literacy issues?
No? I did.
Did you know that in the U.S. more than 93 million people have basic or below basic literacy skills? No? I did. What about the U.K? Did you know that 1 in 5 adults are classed as functionally illiterate?
No? I did.
I read it somewhere. I’d been reading since I was a little tot and I’d read about illiterate people. I lived in South Africa as a child, and I met quite a few people who couldn’t read. Unfortunately, in South Africa in the eighties, they were all black, they worked in the mines, or as garden boys, or as maids. And I understood that part of the fight against apartheid was about the inequality of education. As a child who loved school, it was my only frame of reference and the way it had been explained to me was that they were fighting to have the same education and chances in life that I had…well, that made sense.
But I was born in England. My parents were born in England and tracing back my family tree we’re talking at least eight generations born and raised in England. One of the wealthiest, most educated countries in the world. And when I was twelve I found out something that shocked me about my Granddad Adshead – my mum’s dad. I found out he couldn’t read. He couldn’t write. Not even enough to sign his own name. I saw a copy of his marriage certificate – he marked it with a cross.
Illiteracy was no longer a storyline in a book. No longer a way of keeping the down trodden at heel, or something to be wondered over with sympathy. Pity.
It was a part of my own family. My heritage. My close heritage. A touchable, breathing, part of my lineage. I loved reading, books were my life, and all I wanted to be was a writer. And suddenly I really started to understand the difference education makes-that reading makes-to a person’s life.
My granddad rarely worked, and what work he did get was low paid. When he couldn’t work my grandmother had to go with him to the benefits office to sign on–because he couldn’t read the forms and he didn’t want the employment officers to know he couldn’t read. He was an angry man. Angry at the world and all of us kids. He was difficult to get to know and even more difficult to love. He shied away from people, spent time raising canaries instead. He said he preferred their company. I found out later that this was a defense mechanism because he was ashamed and embarrassed. He didn’t want anyone to know his secret as he’d been bullied and ridiculed when he was young because of it.
When I found out I hoped I’d never see another child bullied or ridiculed because they couldn’t read-because they wanted an education.
That was a hope too much.
Last year I read about a girl who made me cry. A child so desperate for an education that she stood up to a group of bullies and said I refuse to be bowed by you. I deserve better. I deserve more. And I will not let you stop me.
Malala Yousafzai. The 15 year old Pakistani school girl who was shot in the head by a masked gunman from the Taliban because she wanted to learn. She wanted to earn herself a better life, one she hopes to use to bring peace, stability, and equality to her people.
Somehow she survived the gunshot and has gone on to prove what a powerful motivator the desire for education, for learning, for reading can be, when she stood up as a UN special envoy for global education and told the world that she would not be stopped. That her persecutors had only made her stronger and more determined to achieve her goals.
Women like Malala will change the world.
Now, I hope for more like her.
So, you’re probably wondering why I’m banging on about global education and what that has to do with my latest book release, Nightingale. Well, simply put, I’m not spilling the beans. You’re going to have to read it to find out, but it does become clear. I hope you take a look. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
For a chance to win a free paperback copy, email me at email@example.com and the winner will be drawn at random.