Prize incentive to help improve literacy in the Commonwealth

The Guardian,12th April

Prize incentive to help improve literacy in the Commonwealth

We hope that the winners of the 2010 Commonwealth writers’ prize (The week in books, 20 March) to be announced today in India, will inspire a new generation of young authors from unexpected parts of the world and advance cross-cultural collaboration, dialogue and understanding. As former winners, we acknowledge the truly unique contribution the Commonwealth writers’ prize has made in promoting literacy as a tool to empower and enrich the lives of millions. In the 24 years since the prize was established, literacy rates across the Commonwealth have risen from 48% to 68%. But there is still much to be done.

Today, out of approximately 2.1 billion people in the Commonwealth, 680 million or one in three people still cannot read or write. Too many children remain unable to access decent primary school education, with less than one teacher for every 40 pupils in almost a quarter of Commonwealth countries. Women also continue to have far fewer opportunities. Literacy rates for women are 28% lower than for men and a quarter of girls in more than half of all Commonwealth countries do not go to school. Even in the richest countries many adults do not have sufficient literacy skills to reach their full potential. According to a recent report by the National Literacy Trust, this affects one in six adults in the UK.

We therefore call on all Commonwealth governments and civil society organisations to increase their efforts and find new ways to support literacy. Some ideas include building new libraries, supporting fledgling publishing industries, investing more in primary schools, introducing creative writing courses at all educational levels, and above all, doing more to promote literature from minority groups, the marginalised and the underprivileged.

The writers being celebrated today through the Commonwealth writers’ prize want nothing more than to help establish the readers and writers of tomorrow. They want everyone in their countries to be able to read their work, and be inspired to write the next generation of masterpieces.