Why literacy is essential in increasingly digitalised societies: International Literacy Day 2017

Sep 7, 2017

An insightful blog by our Director, Josephine Carlsson, reflecting on this year’s theme for International Literacy Day, ‘Literacy in a digital world’. 

This morning, on my train journey into work, I read the news, communicated with my family members, searched for information on the Internet and checked e-mail messages from my colleagues. All this is part of my normal routine and I take the opportunity to do this for granted.


Mobile subscription and access in Africa, where most of Feed the Minds projects are based, have increased rapidly from almost none in 2000 to around 900 million today. This dramatic increase in the use of technology is hugely positive and potentially life-changing. It has the potential to improve health, access to information, bank transfers and small-scale businesses, just to name a few things. But there is a catch – or two.

First – you need to be able to read and write in order to use the potential of this technology to its full extent. And second – you need internet access. In the 48 Least Developed Countries, where most of Feed the Minds’ partners work – such as Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Sierra Leone – only one in seven people are online. And, out of the still estimated 750 million adult individuals unable to read and write and count, women are far less likely to be able to have these basic literacy skills. 473 million out of the 750 million people who have no basic literacy skills are women. Studies show women have less access both to technology and to education.


Also, some of the poorest areas in developing countries are still completely without mobile connection. So, the overall positive picture is complicated by the inequality in technology access and by the access to education necessary for acquiring the literacy skills you need in order to use all these new opportunities.

Those who lack access to digital technologies and the knowledge, skills and competencies required to navigate them, risk ending up marginalised in increasingly digitally driven societies. Literacy is one such essential skill – it is completely obvious.

When I travel to our projects I always meet women who are overcoming this in ingenious ways; they ask for help from their children with reading and sending texts, walking long distances to places where there is Internet access, borrowing phone chargers and finding ways to access electricity even if their village is not connected to the grid. But I would like to see women use their skills in overcoming obstacles in more constructive ways.

I want more women to have the opportunity to have the literacy skills they need to improve their daily life. It is possible, and it’s what Feed the Minds is aiming for: to integrate literacy training in all our projects in a way that it makes sense and makes life better for the people we are working with.

Access to information and communication via the Internet and mobile phones are all part of this process. See, for instance, how we used smartphones for maternal health in this project in Pakistan.
Photo: a community midwife working with our local partner, NRDP, in Pakistan in our ‘Health Education and Literacy Project for Women’.

This year, International Literacy Day (8 September) will be celebrated across the world under the theme of ‘Literacy in a digital world’. Please consider how you can support Feed the Minds to change this inequality today. Maybe you can count every time you use your literacy skills on your smartphone today and give a similar amount as a life-changing donation, so that a woman in one of our projects can have a chance to do the same in the future?