This week's Bett show marks one of the most important dates in any educationalist's calendar. The event is not just for those with a professional interest in education however. In fact, some of the themes to be explored this year will include the increasing use of gamification as a means to teach, as well as the incorporation of virtual reality into the classroom to further learning aims. Perhaps one of the less dazzling yet increasingly important subjects up for discussion and debate will be how we begin to tackle global literacy rates.
Make no mistake - raising global literacy levels is a formidable challenge. Today, nearly 17% of the world's adult population is still not literate. Low literacy and limited language proficiency among parents is the strongest predictor of a child's ability to thrive academically. With some 775 million adults lacking minimum literacy skills, children are placed in an increasingly untenable position - to act beyond their years and help their families navigate the world. In a year that will continue 2016's trend of being marked by huge patterns of human migration across the world, the challenge that falls on the shoulders of educationalists is to marry speed and practicality in tackling literacy in a changing world.
At Texthelp, one of the things we have been working on to underpin a wider plan on addressing literacy is predicting what comes next. To that end, I have been participating in the Future of Literacy panel - which convenes leading figures from business, technology, and the not-for-profit sector, as well as educational thinkers - and aims to set a groundwork for how we can begin to understand and address the global literacy crisis more effectively. However, we encountered a hurdle early on in our consultation process - how do we even begin to address what literacy is? In a changing world, has this definition changed, and will it continue to change? It was clear that in our first conversation that literacy was not easily defined and indeed all our collective walks of life can lead to different interpretations as we attempt to define "literacy".
After some (okay, much) head-scratching, we came to a shared solution - learning, and therefore literacy, is not simply something that takes place only in the classroom. Just as important - it's what occurs outside of the school as well that counts. Learning about literacy needs to take into account the entire environment of the learner - in the home, within the community, with friends, on the bus. The learning environment is not demarcated - it is fluid and changeable and is informed by the wider community. This is what the Future of Literacy project's "village concept" holistically encompasses. There's also little doubt in my mind that technology is at the heart of this definition too - with digital literacy now forming an important aspect to the understanding and comprehension of the world, not only today, but also in years to come. Naturally, as a technology advocate, I also believe that it is part of the solution to some of the challenges in reading and writing standards we see in today's world, providing assistance and access to content that may previously have been unreachable.
Let us also then move toward a broader view of literacy that embraces the elasticity of a changing definition, toward a more learner centric and "village" paradigm of understanding. I'm sincerely looking forward to how we move the debate forward on literacy, but I'm more excited about how we collectively act on these plans to improve literacy levels and standards both within traditional education, as well as beyond it.
Mark McCusker is CEO of Texthelp, a literacy and language software company. Texthelp will be at the Bett Show 2017 (www.bettshow.com), from 25 - 28 January, at stand C141.