By Qin Sun Stubis
The ability to express ourselves and talk to one another is essential to most species’ survival. That’s why dogs bark, cats meow and dolphins whistle. Humans have taken communication a step further: We have created ways to speak in written forms to exchange and preserve ideas and culture across time and space.
Whether through words, numbers, or music symbols, whether carved on stones, inked on tree bark, or appearing on computer screens, language has empowered us to become the world’s most dominant species for the last five thousand years. Through written symbols, we share and store knowledge, and educate ourselves about anything and everything.
These days, education is essential to the quality of our existence. It shapes who we are, affecting the kind of jobs we get and how much money we can earn when we grow up. In more advanced countries, school is synonymous with childhood, while in others, many have to fight for their right to learning and literacy. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl, got shot for doing just that.
Unfortunately, literacy, the ability to read and write, isn’t inborn. Rather, it is something we have to achieve – and not everybody is interested. Even here, where public education may be taken for granted, for some, going to school is neither a right nor a privilege. It’s a chore, like doing laundry or cleaning your room. They get tired of sitting in a classroom every day and daydream, not realizing the importance of learning and the impact it will have on them for the rest of their lives.
In spite of free public education for all, some fifty per cent of American adults cannot read at an eighth-grade level and about one in seven is illiterate.
In less developed countries, education is not a birthright. Some will never have the luxury of sitting in a classroom or an opportunity to read a book, and others will take on any challenge for a chance to get an education. Children in one mountainous region of China, for instance, climb dangerous high cliffs, a path meant more for mountain goats, in order to get to school. They have to risk their lives to learn to read and write.
This fall, millions of children will start another new school year, whether or not they are motivated to learn. It will also mark another International Literacy Day, created by the United Nations to emphasize the importance of learning. As you put a backpack on your child or wait for the school bus to arrive, don’t forget to tell them how lucky they are to have the right to read and write.
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