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  1. 1. To learn more about IRA’s International Development Division e-mail us at intldev@reading.org or contact our office: 444 North Capitol St., NW Suite 630 Washington, DC 20001, USA Tel: (202) 624-8800 Fax: (202) 624-8826 Headquarters Office 800 Barksdale Road, PO Box 8139 Newark, DE 19714-8139, USA Tel: 1-800-336-7323 (U.S. and Canada) (302) 731-1600 Fax: (302) 731-1057 Please visit our website at: www.reading.org © 2007 the International Reading Association Report From the Fourth Annual Global Perspectives on Literacy, April 2007 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? Washington, DC April 9, 2007 GlobalPerspectivesCover2007 8/8/07 9:39 AM Page 1
  2. 2. PHOTO CREDITS Cover: Top two: Louise Ash Bottom three: International Development Division GlobalPerspectivesCover2007 8/8/07 9:39 AM Page 3
  3. 3. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 1 Contents Welcome ....................................................................................................................................3 Featured Speaker: Dr. Hussein Hassouna — Is Literacy a Path Out of Extremism?....................................4 Panelist: Dr. Golam Samdani Fakir — Is Literacy a Path Out of Extremism? A Critical Look at the Afghan Education System ............................................................8 Panelist: Dr. Frank Dall — Can Literacy Provide a Path Out of Extremism? Assumptions vs. Evidence....................................................................................................12 Panelist: Dr. Timothy Shananan — Literacy as a Cure for Extremism: Necessary, But Is It Sufficient?............................................................................................15 Plenary Questions and Answers ........................................................................................20 Breakout Discussion Sessions Literacy and Political Extremism ..............................................................................22 Literacy and Socioeconomic Extremism ................................................................23 Literacy and Cultural Extremism..............................................................................24
  4. 4. ON BEHALF OF THE INTERNATIONAL READING ASSOCIATION (IRA), I am pleased to introduce this report arising from the Fourth Annual IRA Global Perspectives on Literacy Forum. IRA is a clearinghouse for professional information and insights toward the achievement of an important shared goal: literacy for all. In that spirit, the Global Perspectives series provides an annual occasion to bring together people from di- verse fields and countries to discuss key literacy issues. For over 50 years, the Association has been a strong advocate for literacy, im- proved reading instruction through research, and the fostering of the reading habit. We are committed to the basic principle that all people—young and old, male and female—have the right to learn to read and write, to have access to excellent teach- ers, and to have available a wide variety of quality reading materials. This year, the Global Perspectives group looked beyond literacy as a human right. We asked about the practical connections between literacy and a variety of critically important so- cial and economic goals. We celebrated the fact that literacy is a vital key to human fulfillment and progress. As we survey the world situation today, we find widespread instances of human andsocietaldistress.Itwouldbenaïvetobelievethattheabilitytoreadandwritecould serve as a panacea for all of the world’s ills. Yet, as participants in this year’s Global Perspectiveseventhavepointedout,highlevelsofreadingandwritingsuccesscanplay a critical role in improving the quality of individual lives and of entire communities. If reading and writing are not the sole solution, they remain invaluable tools for building a more equitable and sustainable future for all. The task for all of us is to bet- ter understand the various types of literacy and the requisite contexts and policies by whichliteracythrives.Itisimportanttoarticulateneededpoliciesandtosupportprac- tices and institutions that effectively promote literacy for a sustainable world. I want to extend my gratitude to the key speakers, to the roundtable participants, and to the international experts who joined the group by telephone. We hope that their opinions and ideas are accurately reflected in this report. As the discussions at this year’s Global Perspectives event made evident, there is no obvious consensus about the role and even the nature of literacy in the 21st century. There is, however, a clear and strong consensus that these exchanges among experts and across borders are both valuable and needed. Through meetings, publications, policy actions, and a variety of multinational venues, IRA will continue to lead these important conversations in the years to come. I hope you will find this report from Global Perspectives 2007 useful and informative. IRA looks forward to seeing you at the next Global Perspectives on Literacy event. Alan E. Farstrup Executive Director International Reading Association Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 3 Welcome
  5. 5. 4 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? AMBASSADOR HUSSEIN HASSOUNA is the current ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United States. He is former Ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United Nations and has also been Egypt’s Ambassador to Morocco and Yugoslavia. In addition, Ambassador Hassouna has worked as the Assistant Foreign Minister and Legal Advisor for International Legal Affairs and Treaties in Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Hassouna holds a PhD in International Law from Cambridge University. Several years ago, a representative from the International Reading Association came to see me in my office and introduced me to this organization. During the dis- cussion, I expressed an interest in working with the Association because I believe that promoting literacy and education is a worthwhile goal. I helped him establish contact with the Arab League in Cairo, and we are now planning some future events together. So, I am pleased to be the keynote speaker at this forum today. First, let me say that I am a diplomat. I am not a teacher. Nor am I an expert on literacy or education. But what I have learned from my long career is that diplomacy is no longer relying mainly on protocol like in the old days. Diplomats used to attend receptions and organize meetings for their official delegations. Diplomacy in today’s challenging world is based on knowledge. You need to understand the problems, and you need to be specialized in some discipline. I’m specialized, for example, in inter- national law and have therefore been involved in numerous bilateral and multilater- al negotiations. One of the biggest issues today is education. Of course, we’ve experienced educa- tion at home and during school. One can obtain a better understanding of educa- tion, however, through traveling and through contact with people. A diplomat is for- tunate in a way, because in our occupation, we travel all over the world. We are exposed to different cultures and different ideas. The famous French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, once said that through traveling a person can become “an honest man,” meaning a cultured person, a man who is broadminded, with depth and culture. In focusing on the importance of literacy and education, I would say that they are needed now perhaps more than any time, because of the challenges that we are fac- ing in the world today: challenges of poverty, of disease, of conflict, of extremism, of terrorism, of weapons of mass destruction, and of the environment. All of these chal- Is Literacy a Path Out of Extremism? Dr. Hussein Hassouna Ambassador of the League of Arab States 1
  6. 6. lenges are global in nature, and no one can solve them alone. It is only through joint efforts and an understanding of the root causes and dimensions that we can find the right solutions. The motivator in all of this is education. Education opens the mind, makes you more tolerant, and makes you understand not only the nature of the challenges that you are facing but also the way that the other person thinks and behaves. That is why it is so important to focus on education?on having people be able to write and read and obtaining a good education so that they become productive citizens of their coun- tries as well as global citizens in a better world. Let me remind you that education is part of the Arab and Muslim tradition. The first verses of the Koran start with, “Read in the name of God.” This means that a Muslim has to focus on reading. It is also important to note that the Prophet Mohammad said that it is the duty of every man and woman to seek an education. I think he realized the importance of education to making a better world and to allow- ing people to live together in harmony. One of the greatest Egyptian writers and philosophers, Taha Hussein, who became Minister of Education at one point, said once that education is as essential to human development as is air and water to the body. He was a great proponent of free education; he made education in Egypt free for everyone. When looking through history, you will realize the Arab contribution to knowl- edge has been enormous. It has influenced western culture in many, many ways–in mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, architecture, and so on. Another important as- pect of education is the Arab language, which binds the Arabs together. It is the basis of their common culture. Even when you talk today about the Arab League, which is the organization that I represent, its member states have many common affinities, but the strongest tie between them is that they all belong to an Arab culture, which is based on the Arab language. The Arab language is also important since it is the lan- guage of the Koran. It binds 1.3 billion people around the world because they all relate to the Koran. So this is the power of the Arab language. Since 1974, the Arab language has been one of the six official languages of the United Nations. And today you can see how much it is needed. Even in the United States and countries throughout the west- ern world, there is a great need for Arabic teachers and Arabic schools. Indeed, Arabic is one of the most sought after languages in academic institutions today because of the renewed need to understand this language and master it. The Arab world faces major challenges related to knowledge and education. Data from the Arab human development reports of the United Nations bear this out. I want to point out these human development reports, which have been critical of the Arab situation, have been prepared by Arab intellectuals and supported by the Arab League. We needed them to help us proceed through this reform. We have been very self-critical. It’s the only forward way to achieve progress. These human development reports describe the knowledge gap and also a quality gap in education. There’s an enormous rate of illiteracy in the Arab world. This makes the problem very urgent for a number of reasons. First, the Arab region has the high- est proportion of young people in the world. Nearly 40% of the Arabs today are under the age of 14. This underlines the importance of addressing the problem of educa- tion and illiteracy. The rate of illiteracy is very high. Statistics show that between 50–60% of the population in the Arab region are illiterate. Among them, unfortu- nately, there is a high rate of illiteracy among women. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 5 One cannot impose a system that is alien to a society and then ask people to just embrace it. Any system has to be adapted to local needs and the environment.
  7. 7. A couple of weeks ago in Qatar, an important conference under the auspices of UNESCO focused on the problem of illiteracy. During the conference, it was said that in order to overcome this massive illiteracy problem we need a variety of solutions— through the schools and the media, through seminars and group meetings, through the creation of libraries, through the use of children’s books and the translation of educational materials. Many tools are needed in order to face this problem. Of course, we need to focus on the role of the teacher. I believe that both UNESCO and ALE- SCO, which is the Arab organization of the Arab League dealing with education, have a vital role to play. I want to point out two important documents adopted by the Arab League on the issue of education. These focus on that priority problem and how to deal with it. During a meeting of the Arab League heads of state in Khartoum at the summit conference last year in March 2006, conference participants underlined the right to education and equal opportunity and nondiscrimination for everyone. They stressed the need to reform education and established a higher committee among all the Arab States to look into the curriculum and to explore how to improve the level of educa- tion and teaching. The conference also agreed that education reform must be consis- tent with the values of Arab society and its culture and heritage. One cannot impose a system that is alien to a society and then ask people to just embrace it. Any system has to be adapted to local needs and the environment. In the summit meeting of the Arab League that took place in Riyad in March 2007, education was again emphasized. The conference recommended that education re- form be given top priority in the Arab world and that it should be supported finan- cially so as to enable the educational institutions to perform their roles. Recommendationsalsoemphasizedscientificresearch,professionalbooktranslations, and Arab language dissemination. Together with education reform, there was a sug- gestion that the Arab world should also focus on promoting cultural moderation and tolerance, rejecting extremist ideas, and preserving human values and religious beliefs. Thus, the conference acknowledged this relationship between reforming education and fighting extremism, which is the theme of our panel discussion. I wish to point out that education can also promote better understanding between nations. In talking about the Arab world and the United States, we realize how the tragedy of September 11 has affected relations—how the image of the United States in our part of the world and the image of the Arab world in this country have been negatively affected. It is through education—through exchanging students and aca- demics, through creating U.S. schools and universities in our part of the world and creating chairs for Arab studies at universities in the United States, through cultural seminars and media outreach—that positive relations and fruitful cooperation can be reestablished. There are many United States initiatives supporting the reform of education, such astheMiddleEastPartnershipInitiative,andtherearecommittedpeopledealingwith it.We are very happy to have an American official of Egyptian descent, Dina Powell, as Assistant Secretary of State for Culture and Education. She understands Arab cul- ture and can play an important role as a bridge between our two cultures. Of course, there are many NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) in the field of education. Their importance lies in that they act, generally without a political agenda. They can contribute with experience and motivation, and they can make a difference. I am also personally involved in promoting culture, literacy, and education be- tween the Arab world and the United States. Besides sponsoring exchange programs 6 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism?
  8. 8. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 7 and joint seminars, I am presently organizing an important cultural Arab event in Washington with the Kennedy Center in 2009. We hope that the 22 countries of the Arab League will participate in this event and present their best achievements in the fields of music, art, literature, dance, and song to share with our American friends the rich Arab culture. We are looking forward to presenting aspects of our culture at the festival, and to developing close ties with the American public. Let me conclude by saying that while Arab-American relations are facing numer- ous challenges today, they are also developing great opportunities. A major opportu- nity lies in working together to enhance our ties in the fields of culture and education. I am confident that we can succeed.
  9. 9. 8 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? Is Literacy a Path Out of Extremism? A Critical Look at the Afghan Education System Dr. Golam Samdani Fakir DR. FAKIR, Visiting Professor at the School for International Training (SIT), has been work- ing to advance literacy instruction in the developing world for over 30 years. Dr. Fakir worked as Senior Research Economist and Director of Training at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). In 2002, Dr. Fakir led a four-member team to Afghanistan to develop a five-year strategic plan for the country’s Ministry of Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development. A medical doctor and scholar, Dr. Fakir has a BA and an MA in Economics from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and a PhD in Industrial Economics from Academia De Studi Economice, in Bucharest, Romania. It is now commonly understood that extremism leads to violence and death. But how do we define extremism? Archbishop Desmond Tutu defined extremism as “when you do not allow for a different point of view; when you hold your own views as being quite exclusive, when you don’t allow for the possibility of difference.” Extremism can be defined as when someone wants to impose his or her views on others using vi- olence. Extremism is a term used to describe the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived notion of a society, or otherwise claimed to violate com- mon standards of ethics, beliefs, and practices. The term extremist is used to describe groups and individuals that have become radicalized in some way. Keeping this understanding of extremism in mind, let us consider how we can solve this problem. Two conventional solutions to extremism are widely used: political and military solutions. We are going to consider a soft approach, which is literacy or edu- cation (I would like to use literacy and education synonymously). One may argue that education is not so powerful that it could solve these problems. But I would like to say that although it may not be as powerful as military strategy, through this approach we can reach the root of the problems in two ways: 1. Preventing individuals from joining extremist or violent movements by mak- ing them critically conscious; and 2. Enabling people to protest against the extremists. Let us discuss these approaches from the context of Afghanistan. Developing a common understanding about the term of extremism or who are extremists in Afghanistan is very difficult. The international donor community in Afghanistan la- bels all activities of the Taliban as extremist activities. But how does the general 2
  10. 10. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 9 Afghan public define this? How do we consider the local warlord leaders who are now being absorbed into the local administration without changing their mindset? How can we transform the thinking of local religious leaders? Should we take a bot- tom-up or top-down approach? These questions need to be answered before we can develop a functional literacy system that can address the issue of extremism in Afghanistan. Effective utilization of the two approaches mentioned above is linked to three questions: 1. How are we addressing the issue of identity in Afghanistan? 2. How are we ensuring security at all levels? 3. How can we create critical thinkers in the Afghan society? More than two decades of civil war in Afghanistan have destroyed its economy, na- tional and individual security, and infrastructure. The country’s education system also has suffered severely. This has resulted in a literacy rate in Afghanistan today that is one of the lowest among developing countries (UNDP, 2004). Only 28.7% of Afghans over age 15 can read and write. But the current primary enrollment ratio is quite high (54.4%) (UNICEF, 2004), indicating that children are increasingly return- ing to schools. According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, access to education is very high for the 2004 academic year. Afghanistan has had 1.5 million children en- tering grade 1 throughout the nation. This represents a sharp increase in student enrollment in the primary schools. Some 33% of all children were in school in 2001. The number increased to 66% in 2002 and to 87% in 2003. A similar trend also was found in the case of girls’ educa- tion. From 0 percent in 2000, girls’ enrollment increased to 29% in 2002, 36% in 2003, and 42% in 2004. But this sharp increase of enrollment was not commensurate with other develop- ment and has created the following difficulties: • Shortage of 30,000 teachers for the year 2004 • Upgrading of 42,000 teachers below grade 12, to serve as regular teachers • Instruction in teaching/learning practices for about 100,000 teachers who have returned to teaching in schools after long years of absence from education sys- tem • Shortage of new school buildings and the reconstruction and repair of old school buildings • Shortage of textbooks and serious problems for timely textbooks distribution to schools • Lack of security • Lack of development funds (Source: Ministry of Education, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and National Report on the Development of Education in Afghanistan, 2004) A number of good initiatives were undertaken by national and local governments and international NGOs in the field of education and literacy. The government has stated that education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan and that education shall be offered to the BA level in the state educational institutes free of charge by the state. Article 43 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan states: “By 2020 all children in Afghanistan, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of Literacy can be a path for eliminating extremism if, along with formal education, additional efforts are taken to transform the thinking of the large majority of the civil society to develop a sharing and caring society.
  11. 11. primary education.” Afghanistan has prepared a 12-year education plan that proj- ects that all school-age children should be in school by the year 2015. Preliminary es- timated cost is $2.2 billion. The above statistics are talking about future Afghan generations, but there is a large segment of the adult population that is excluded from this education. Measures should be taken to make them functionally literate. Some NGOs came forward to address the issue of functional literacy. They have been facilitating a program titled “Accelerated Education” to serve the nonliterate adult population. It is yet to be de- termined how far this effort will go in producing the desired result in Afghan society. The absence of learning materials and qualified teachers (especially female teach- ers in rural areas), both in the formal and informal education system, has made it more challenging to keep children in schools and to make those schools productive and meaningful. Increased enrollment in schools is a good indicator, but this is not enough. To address this issue, the government of Afghanistan decided in 2003 that a total of 70,000 Afghan school teachers would receive inservice training with the help of UNICEF. Since then, several international organizations have become seriously ac- tive in rebuilding schools and providing training to teachers to address the post-war needs of the country. The training programs have focused on new ways of teaching in the areas of improving classroom management skills by integrating the emerging needs into the curriculum. Emphasis has been placed on including women in the teacher training program to reduce the gender gap, as the women were denied the right to practice their profession for many years in Afghanistan. Many rural school teachers have no more than a primary school education. It has been reported that only 15% of teachers currently working in Afghan schools have graduated from teacher training colleges (UNICEF, 2003). A large proportion of teachers have only 12 years of education. A total of 35 NGOs are working in the education field in Afghanistan. By the fall of Taliban in December 2001, an estimated 500,000 boys and girls were in schools re- ceiving educational assistance from NGOs. Besides increasing access, NGOs carried out teacher education programs, developed a shared education management informa- tion system, and provided life skills and peace building through a variety of means, in- cluding radio broadcasts. Through their participatory approach to these services, NGOs were able to keep alive the concept of civic responsibility and participation. And in this respect, functional education is playing an important role. The issues of human rights, social equity, peace, and women’s rights were incorporated in the cur- riculum of classes VII to XII. The government also revised the national anthem to address the values, culture, and spirit of different ethnic groups such as Pashtoon, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek. Some specific recommendations for preventing extremism are as follows: 1. Incorporate the issue of extremism and its negative impact against humanity in all the educational curricula. (Cortes, in his book, The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach About Diversity, classifies four types of curriculum: a) the immediate curriculum—home, family, and neighborhood; b) the institutional curriculum—youth groups, religious and educational institutions, and volun- tary associations; c) serendipitous curriculum—random personal experiences, chance interactions, and foreign travel; and d) media curriculum. 2. Improve the quality of the teachers and make them critically aware of the im- pact of extremism. 10 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism?
  12. 12. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 11 3. Bring all young people, including women, under a functional education pro- gram, ensuring that through education we are preparing them as critical thinkers. 4. Ensure a full range of education services to all ethnic groups. 5. Organize a scholars’ workshop, where influential and mainstream Muslim scholars and thinkers are invited to speak to general Afghan people to propagate effective arguments against extremists. 6. Organize an educational advisory board of Imams, religious leaders, and leaders from the educational institutions to provide guidance and support to Imams, mosques, and educational institutions about speaking against the extremists in an appropriate manner. Converting the majority of the Afghan people to functional literacy is a gigantic task. It requires systematic and collective efforts from both the government and NGOs. Literacy can be a path for eliminating extremism if, along with formal educa- tion, additional efforts are taken to transform the thinking of the large majority of the civil society to develop a sharing and caring society. This requires interventions to address the larger national issues of national solidarity, diversity, the establishment of democratic practices, and the insurance of security both at the national and inter- national level, which in turn insures an economic livelihood. Although things are moving very slowly, we are optimistic that we will see a more functionally literate Afghan society in the near future. It is quite apparent that a post-conflict Afghan society requires a multi-track ap- proach, combining efforts that aim at achieving relief, development, and governance. Without attacking poverty in Afghanistan, it is virtually impossible to conduct ei- ther a sustained program against extremism or a durable reconstruction program. R E F E R E N C E S Davies, Lynn. Education Against Extremism. University of Birmingham. Haq M., and Haq, K. (1998). Human Development in South Asia 1998. Karachi: Oxford University Press. Ministry of Education, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. (2005). National Education Program— Five Year Strategy (2006–2010). Ministry of Education, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2004). National Report on the Development of Education in Afghanistan, August 10, 2004. UNDP. (2004). The status of human underdevelopment and people’s insecurities in Afghanistan. Human Development Report 2004. New York: UNDP. UNESCO. (2000). The Dakar Framework of Action. Paris: UNESCO. UNICEF. (2004). Afghanistan—Progress of Provinces. Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2003. Kabul: UNICEF.
  13. 13. 12 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? Can Literacy Provide a Path Out of Extremism? Assumptions vs. Evidence Dr. Frank Dall AFTERWORKINGASARURALTEACHERanduniversitylecturerinCentralAfrica,and with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) in the Peruvian Amazon, Dr. Dall joined UNICEF, where he worked first as Senior Education Advisor in the organization’s EducationClusterandthenasSeniorAdvisorforUNICEF’sMiddleEastNorthAfricaregion, responsible for activities in 22 countries. From 2002–2006, as Senior Education Advisor for Creative Associates International, Inc., Dr. Dall directed the USAID-funded Revitalization of Iraqi Schools and Stabilization of Education (RISE) project. Currently, Dr. Dall is Senior Research Scientist at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Dr. Dall holds an undergraduate degree from Bristol University, UK, a postgraduate certificate in Education for Africa from the London University Institute of Education and the University of Zambia, and a doctoral degree in International Intercultural Development Education from Florida State University. Today I will focus on five critical themes intended to stimulate a broader discus- sion of the points often touched on by literacy experts. I will take a more provocative approach and basically challenge this whole notion of literacy. First, we need to ask ourselves what we mean by literacy, for there are various defini- tions. It is less than education, yet it is more than just informal education. For me, it has to do with the teaching of literacy in the classical way—reading, writing, and arithmetic. My purpose today is to challenge some of those assumptions. By challenging precon- ceptions and generalizations pertaining to the impact of formal literacy interventions, my intention is to stimulate a more critical discussion of the issues being addressed dur- ing the group discussions that follow. I will attempt to deal with commonly held assump- tions about the literacy process; existing evidence about those commonly held assump- tions; missing elements for moving those assumptions to reality; underlying factors; and theplayerswhoultimatelybenefitfromtraditional,orclassical,literacyinstruction. Some Assumptions About the Literacy Process • Providing populations with basic literacy is enough to affect an individual’s at- titude and behavior. • Literacy learning is a one-off finite process that is self-sustaining. 3
  14. 14. • Mass literacy campaigns are cost-effective and provide worthwhile investment for scarce educational resources. • Literacy, in the reading, writing and numeracy sense, can substitute for schooling. • Illiterates want to be made literate. What Does the Evidence Say? • One-time literacy learning may not be self-sustaining without some form of fol- low-up and/or institutional commitment. For example, I ran a very large liter- acy program for USAID in Guatemala, where we reached 65,000 women in 1,000 highland communities. We designed and tested an elaborate literacy program to transfer literacy skills in Quiche, Ichil, and Spanish to mainly illit- erate Mayan women. However, I am not convinced that if one went back there now one would find many functionally literate women. This approach wasn’t vi- able, because we didn’t have a government committed to providing the long- term support needed to sustain the positive effects of two successful annual lit- eracy campaigns. • Frequently cited mass literacy successes in Ethiopia and China, among other examples, are used to support the notion that investment in literacy pays off. A careful examination of each case may suggest otherwise. Record numbers of illit- erates in Ethiopia attest to a failure to sustain the gains made under the Menghistu regime. In China, the literacy gains made during Mao’s revolution seem not to have made an impact on the high illiteracy rates suffered by minor- ity groups who are still among China’s least literate. • There is increasing economic evidence that the best rate of return is in invest- ment in basic primary education and not in literacy per se. What is learned in school is a lot more than the three Rs. • Perhaps investment in out-of-school adult nonformal and informal literacy class- es can make a difference, but at what cost? (There may be high opportunity costs involved for poor nations). • The issues facing many small countries where multiculturalism is a reality are still unresolved. Bilingual literacy can be provided, but at what cost and to what effect? The Missing Elements • Literacy needs to be transferred as part of an integrated packet of skills, informa- tion, and knowledge to be really effective. • Neither education nor literacy are panaceas. Both reflect the social–cultural val- ues and shortcomings prevailing in the society out of which each process emerges. • Enforcing monolingual literacy on complex societies may only enhance frustra- tion and further alienate the illiterate. Economic and cultural inequities and lack of opportunity are frequently what fuel the need for extreme measures and actions. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 13
  15. 15. 14 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? Underlying Factors • The ability to provide basic education and literacy for all ultimately rests on na- tional priority and political will. • Dominant groups threatened by diversity have used literacy as a tool to forceful- ly integrate minority groups into the political mainstream. • Small uncoordinated literacy programs seldom make any real impact on the problem of illiteracy or lack of education. Seventy years, or more, of develop- ment experience suggests that jewel box approaches to national development may be wasteful of scarce resources. • While literacy generally focuses on needs of the unreached, we forget that many children in schools are being taught by teachers who lack literacy skills or are functionally still illiterate. Who Ultimately Benefits From a Classical Literacy Approach? • Local employers that may be exploitive of the newly literate whose skills and enthusiasm provide a ready source of accessible labor • Religious organizations and groups bent on converting and winning over mass support • Political parties and movements pushing for power and control through mass mobilization • Globalizing markets in search of cheaper sources of trained labor In this quick review, I outlined some of the reasons why traditional assumptions about classical literacy approaches need to be challenged. We need to be much more critical about context and how we deliver literacy services. Here, the abolition of all literacy programs without first critically examining the underlying political, cultur- al, social, and economic variables that make each receiving situation unique isn’t what is being advocated. Avoiding jewel box and cookie-cutter literacy approaches that have in recent history tended to attract most donor support, but no longer meet the education needs of minorities and poor marginalized communities is, after Dakar, a major challenge. Creative and innovative approaches that fully take into account the sociocultural and political reality of each target group’s situation should be in- cluded to better inform and correct our program and project design process. If we really intend to reach those at the margin of our societies who are among the 20% still without educational services, we need to learn to think outside the clas- sical literacy box and to include innovative and more cost-effective education meth- ods and technologies in our response. Otherwise, classical literacy approaches in a world increasingly defined by changing social, political, and economic reality will con- tribute to extremism by raising the educational expectations of marginalized commu- nities but not delivering the skills needed for survival in rapidly changing emerging so- cieties. Jewel box and cookie-cutter approaches to literacy, which have in recent history tended to attract most donor support, no longer adequately meet the education needs of minorities and poor, marginalized communities.
  16. 16. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 15 Literacy as a Cure for Extremism: Necessary, But Is It Sufficient? Dr. Timothy Shanahan TIMOTHY SHANAHAN, International Reading Association President, is Professor of Urban Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of the university’s Center for Literacy. Dr. Shanahan chairs the National Literacy Panel on Language and Minority Children and Youth and the National Early Literacy Panel. He has written or ed- ited six books and more than 100 articles and research studies on the relationship of reading and writing, school improvement, the assessment of reading ability, and family literacy. He was inducted into the Illinois Reading Council Hall of Fame in 2002 and was selected to serve on the White House Assembly on Reading and the National Reading Panel, a group convened by the National Institute of Child Health and Development at the request of Congress to evaluate research on successful methods of teaching reading. Dr. Shanahan received his BA and MAT from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and his PhD from the University of Delaware. Given the occasion today and our reason for being assembled here together, it is to be expected that someone in my position will claim that the advancement of literacy is the missing ingredient in the antidote to the violent and destructive political, reli- gious, and economic extremism that plagues our world. A teacher like me might argue that, in fact, the expansion of literacy will lead surely and immediately to economic prosperity, democratization of governments, and universal health and well being for the world’s citizenry. And while it may be true that if everyone could read and write, terrorism and ex- tremism would be brought to a swift and final end, this is surely not the most obvious outcome of world literacy, nor would such wonders arise automatically even if they were to be gained from the increase of literacy. I admit that I tend to be in the camp that believes that books humanize people, that reading is a way to ensure greater humanity and fairness. But there are too many exceptional figures—in past history and even today, who despite being literate, hold or will hold prominent positions on the rolls of history’s great villains. Anyone who advances literacy with the idea that it will bring about greater peace and tranquility first must explain the literacy of the Adolf Hitlers and the Pol Pots. Because if litera- cy has the power to end extremism, why are so many of the world’s most extremist political figures in possession of literacy? 4
  17. 17. If literacy—and here you can replace literacy with any auto-positive term such as education, health, or wealth—if literacy or any of these good things could guarantee an end to terror there would be no need for us to cry out for more resources and greater public commitment for education, because those resources would be there without our asking given the universal hope for peace and harmony. Our job is hard- er than that as we must make the complex case for the role that literacy can take in helping to end extremism of all stripes, and it is not an obvious case, because literacy is sometimes used as a tool by extremists to advance their palsied positions and to car- ry out their dastardly plans as much as it is by those who strive for a world without hate. I am here to argue the case for a more ambitious and effective effort to provide literacy to all, but I do not do this on the basis of some romantic notion that literacy holds any immediate or certain cure to extremism. Sadly, literacy cannot root out the evil in men’s hearts, and literacy can indeed be used by both sides in any conflict. One important root of extremism is poverty. Many scholars and political experts attribute various extremist movements to economic dissatisfaction and disaffection. The widely spread battle cry “no peace without justice” is often used to express the pain of those who lag behind economically. In fact, economic rewards are not evenly distributed within this nation, nor are they evenly distributed across the globe. But whether we speak of individuals or of countries, education generally and literacy specifically often are held out as necessary conditions for economic advancement. The idea is that anyone who wants economic justice can gain it through education. This simple idea that reading allows for economic growth turns out to be quite complex, however. First, it is fair to say that there is no doubt that whether we speak of individuals in the United States or of the nations of the world, that there is a close cor- relation of literacy levels and wealth (Venezky, Kaestle, & Sum, 1987). Those indi- viduals and those nations with the highest literacy seem to end up with some of the greatest wealth, and the reverse is true as well, that those with the lowest levels of liter- acy are usually among the lowest in money. This correlation makes practical sense, as many economic activities themselves de- mand the use of literacy. Scientists and engineers on average make good salaries and much of their work requires reading and writing. One could not be a successful sci- entist or engineer without literacy, and so one is not surprised that literacy in such cas- es leads to better individual economic conditions. Of course, the same kind of functional value is evident when nations undertake economic development efforts. For example, UNESCO has shown the importance of education in putting in place water programs in developing nations in Africa. If coun- tries fail to budget a sufficient amount on educational expansion they cannot develop a sustainable water program pinching off any chances for economic development or nationwide health (Walmsley, et al., 2004). Educators may gladly embrace the idea that more education means greater in- comes for their students and that nations that support the most education end up with the greatest economic growth. Teach your children, and they will create econom- ic expansion and therefore will not fall prey to extremism. However, as sensible as these patterns—these chains of logic—may be, the truth is not so simple. Historians of literacy have shown that the relationship between literacy growth and economic development are often the opposite of what I have described—with economic growth coming first and with that economic growth eventually paying for the consequent literacy development, and there are countries whose education lev- 16 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism?
  18. 18. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 17 els far surpass their economic status. For example, during much of the 20th century, Ireland was by most measures a poor economic country, certainly the poorest in Western Europe. In earlier centuries this same pattern was evident in Sweden—high literacy, but not especially high employment or economic levels. Of course today both Sweden and Ireland have been transformed into wealthy countries, and a good deal of their success has been connected to their high levels of education. While literacy is closely related to economic success in much of the world, it is only a necessary condition and not a sufficient one for economic growth. Literacy matters, but so do investment, credit, government regulations, transportation, energy, avail- ability of natural resources, taxes, political stability, and so on. Literacy alone is not sufficient for creating wealth, but it is necessary for doing so in any sustainable way in an increasingly technology-driven world. Analyses of economic success and literacy suggest literacy as both a cause and an outcome (Vincent, 2003). In other words, higher literacy tends to stimulate econom- ic expansion, but this expansion also makes it more possible to support schools and the like. There needs to be sufficient literacy in the system to allow for the kind of ex- pansion that Ontario saw in the 19th century or that Ireland has recently experi- enced, but once the expansion is underway, it is wise to use some of the new wealth to expand literacy levels beyond what is needed immediately. This pattern has happened repeatedly in various parts of the world at various times in history. And I think it high- lights an important truth: You always want to have somewhat greater literacy available in an economy than what your economy actually needs at the time. This excess liter- acy usually turns out to play an important part in later economic growth (that delay can be a long one as in Ireland’s case, but a very powerful one as well). Literacy plays a role in not just creating economic growth but in sustaining these higher levels of eco- nomic activity. Short-term gains that come from brute force efforts—such as intensive agricultural, mining, or manufacturing efforts—cannot be long preserved without the development of an infrastructure that will surely be based upon literacy. But extremism is not solely the province of economic dissatisfaction. Even people witharoofovertheirheadsandfullbelliesmightbecomeextremistsduetopoliticalex- clusion or repression—extremists often look like Osama Bin Laden, men with suffi- cient wealth who are speaking for the politically marginalized rather than for the eco- nomically impoverished. Political exclusion and repression can foster extremism. And again, I turn to literacy. Political participation requires literacy as well. The kinds of correlations that I described for economic activity are also true for political involvement. For instance, data from the United States indicate a close relationship between voting and literacy, although we no longer have literacy tests or educational requirements for enfranchisement. Even more remarkable is the fact that studies show there is a close relationship between keeping informed of public events and be- ing literate. Those correlations may not be surprising, as someone who cannot read would be unable to read a newspaper or political pamphlet, and in that sense they would obviously be cut off from public information. But, in fact, in the developed world, much of the information about elections and public affairs is available on tel- evision and radio—media that do not require the viewer or listener to be able to read (Venezky, Kaestle, & Sum, 1987). Nevertheless, our adult literacy statistics tell us that low-literate individuals usually obtain less public information of all kinds, even from television and radio. Literacy plays functional roles in helping people to obtain political information and in helping them to express their public concerns—through voting, through peti- We must dedicate ourselves to advancing critical literacy, a literacy that allows and encourages persons to look beyond the claims of the extreme individual, that allows one to evaluate arguments, that allows one to see the connections among diverse ideas, that allows one to consider both what has gone before and what may arise in the future.
  19. 19. tioning their government, through participation in various political demonstrations, andthelike.Butliteracyisalsocriticalinhelpingindividualstosurrenderfatalismand to believe in the possibility and social value of their own actions. Political extremists who turn to violence do so usually as a result of a great deal of frustration, a fatalistic sense that there is no place for them at the table, an impoverished acceptance of the idea that there is nothing they can do to affect the world in which they live. Suicide bombing only makes much sense in that kind of context of failure and the frustration that says that one’s only chance of reward will be in another life. Literacy is critical be- cause it can foster a sense of possibility while enabling actual participation. There are fewer studies on the role of literacy and political participation, but I sus- pect the same pattern that I described for economic participation holds true here as well. Literacy is not sufficiently potent to prevent political marginalization and exclu- sion, but literacy has increasingly come to play an important role in political inclusion in the 21st century. Literacy teachers cannot force dictators to allow the vote, nor can they open a society so that everyone can be heard—but they can make sure that individuals are able to participate successfully when those conditions prevail. Again, literacy may not be a sufficient condition to political participation, but it is a neces- sary one. There are certainly other bodies of research that one can turn to, such as the stud- ies that show a relationship between the growth of literacy and the decline in vio- lence in 19th century France (Gillis, 2005). Or, one could consider the role that women’s literacy plays in the health and well-being of their families in India and Pakistan (Sen, 1993). These improvements that at least partially come from literacy again will reflect the same pattern of necessity, but insufficiency and the order of re- lationship will again not be entirely certain. So rather than exploring each of these provocative topics only with the same result over and over, let me turn to one last, different, and important note on literacy and its role in preventing extremism. Although research is clear that literacy is a tool that is needed but that alone can- not solve our problems, research also suggests that how we teach literacy and the kinds of literacy that we teach matter as well. In a landmark study in Liberia, Scribner and Cole (1981) tried to uncover the impact of literacy learning on cognitive develop- ment. As in the political and economic spheres, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to separate the threads of urbanity, education, modernity, and literacy, but in this study the researchers actually were able to do so. They were interested in whether people who were literate thought differently than those who were not. In fact, they did find some differences in what people thought about and how they processed information. For example, those who were learning to read in Arabic— mainly Koranic studies—ended up with greater memories than did those who learned to read in English or in Vai. What they were finding was that it was not that literacy had a general cognitive outcome but that the kind of literacy one learned and how one became literate determined the cognitive outcomes. Over a lifetime of study, I have come to believe that the same is likely true in the other spheres in which literacy plays an important role. We need to work hard to make sure that literacy is available to all. But here I do not speak of the literacy of one be- ing able to sign one’s name or to read the directions on baby formula or on the con- dom pack. If extremism is brought about by feelings of economic, social, and politi- cal injustice and the fatalistic sense that one cannot do anything that would matter within the bounds of civilization, then literacy has to be taught in a way that enhances the dignity of individuals and that truly opens up the possibilities of participation. 18 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism?
  20. 20. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 19 If literacy instruction just teaches someone to read and understand simple mes- sages, then literacy will surely be the tool of the extremist, as extreme views matter most when they can capture adherents. We must dedicate ourselves to advancing, not just literacy, but critical literacy, a literacy that allows and encourages persons to look beyond the claims of the extreme individual, that allows one to evaluate argu- ments, that allows one to see the connections among diverse ideas, that allows one to consider both what has gone before and what may arise in the future. Literacy is not a low level skill, it is a way of thinking, a way of life—it is the enemy of fatalism and in that it makes it difficult, not impossible but difficult, for extremism to take root. Madmen may spring up, of course, but they cannot become Hitlers unless they can gain a following—and it is critical literacy, that is our best hope to prevent that. Literate people commit fewer violent crimes, not because they are better than every- one else but because they have greater opportunity to understand the ramifications of their acts and to appreciate the consequences for themselves and for others. We need to teach literacy to all, but it must be a literacy that opens up the lessons of history, that considers the relationships among human beings, and that is based upon participation, individual dignity, and social responsibility. It is to that that we must dedicate ourselves. R E F E R E N C E S Gillis, A.R. (1994). Literacy and the civilization of violence in 19th century France. Sociological Forum, 9, 371–401. Scribner, S., and Cole, M. (1981). The Psychology of Literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Sen, A. (1993). The economics of life and death. Scientific American, 268(5), 40–48. Venezky, R.L., Kaestle, C., and Sum, A. (1987). The Subtle Danger: Reflections on the Literacy Abilities of America’s Young Adults. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Vincent, D. (2003). The progress of literacy. Victorian Studies, 45, 405–431. Walmsley, D., Havenga, T., Braune, E., Schmidt, K. Prasad, and v. Koppen, B. (2004). An Evaluation of World Water Programme Indicators for Use in South Africa. Working Paper. 90. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute.
  21. 21. 20 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? Plenary Questions and Answers LITERACY, EDUCATION, AND CONTENT Can we put a little more stress on exploring how literacy is not just the three Rs or a set of skills but also what literacy is in terms of content. What, for example, is the content of “critical literacy?” We go back to a definition of literacy. Critical literacy is what we need, even in our own schools. How many of us leave high school with the critical mindset we need to re- spond to the traps that are out there, that are sold to us by society? And many of us go- ing to the next level don’t get those skills either. Content does matter. Literacy content is like a pyramid. At the base there are some common skills which underlie any kind of reading, and people have to have that to en- able them to move through the rest of the pyramid. Well beyond the basic literacy, we need to know how we can enable young children to do the beginning things that are essential and that we want them to be able to do. I think we have to argue for literacy as something that really allows individuals to think more deeply about how we got to where we are, what are the choices, and whether things have to be the way they are. This is not to suggest just undermining but also to marvel at how wonderful so many things are and at what people in the past have done together. I think the notion of teaching people to read and write is to show them how they connect to other people and how their actions connect with others, and to allow them to see literacy as an incredible cultural phenomenon. In relation to the history discus- sion, we have a set of studies going on where we’re looking at chemistry reading, his- tory reading, and math reading because the people who teach in those disciplines think about those literacies so differently—the levels of precision that they expect people to think with, the kinds of intellectual paths that they expect, how they read a book—whether they reverence it or think that they are supposed to tear it apart. There are cultural differences that are no less than the differences between Christianity and Islam or Judaism, for example. What people need to learn in litera- cy is not just how to read generally but also how to do those specific kinds of reading, and how you really excel in those disciplines, understanding the different people in the different groups. 5
  22. 22. Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 21 To deal with the issue of extremism, you need a comprehensive approach. It’s not just a matter of teaching and of making the people more aware. It’s a matter of dealing with a whole culture, a whole environment. If you look at why people are extremists in the world today, sometimes they say because they are illiterate, sometimes they say be- cause they are unemployed, sometimes they say because they live in an environment where they don’t have democratic institutions. LITERACY AND ECONOMIC DISPARITIES: DO THEY CONTRIBUTE TO EXTREMISM? There was consensus in the presentations on the political disparities to extremism and what extremism is. Will you address economic disparity in your discussions? Thisquestionofthedistributionofwealthisimplicitinpartofoursociety.Thedefinition of capitalism is that wealth is always concentrated in the hands of the few. The argument is that the few will generate enough wealth to trickle down and make everybody else happy. As long as those few generate that wealth, that keeps the engine driving. My feel- ing is that there is an element of truth to your assertion As long as the disparities seem fair to people, or seem OK, people feel like, “Gee, someday I could be like Bill Gates and have that much money.” That’s OK, but there’s a real risk to that. The risk isn’t in good economic times like these; the risk is in more challenged times. One reason why people in a western country or an advanced coun- try work through a system that is not necessarily giving them what they want political- ly at the moment is because they believe, and they see a bigger picture. They see that the seeds of change are there and that over time they will be able to change things. I think that’s why people are not fatalistic about it. I think that in a country where people say that there is no chance of making changes—if my country is doing things that I don’t like, I am stuck with it, they are going to keep on doing it, and it’s up to them if they change it—I think that is what leads to violence of various kinds, whether it’s organized or individual, at least to despair.
  23. 23. 22 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? Breakout Discussion Sessions Forum participants were divided into three groups to discuss literacy’s impact on three types of extremism: political and ecological extremism, cultural extremism, and socio-economic extremism. Live telephone connections from field-based profes- sionals were followed by questions and discussion by the session attendees. LITERACY AND POLITICAL EXTREMISM Breakout session leader: Dr. Frank Dall Commentary from the field: Dr. Hellen Inyega, Kenya As presented by Dr. Inyega, explaining literacy as a path out of extremism largely depends on the definitions of the terms. In Kenya, a country with 40 different lan- guages/cultures, one needs to have a broad view of literacy. When a person says that someone is literate, what does it mean? A social–cultural slant on the definition of literacy, i.e., how people learn from home, school, etc., is more appropriate. In this multiliterate nation with a diverse culture, literacy is viewed as a tool for lifelong learning and is generally associated with being informed, educated, employed with a good job, etc. Literacy is a path out of political extremism in many ways. Through the right to vote, more political rights, and informed decision making, people are able to vote more wisely and are more sensitized about their rights as citizens. With the dissemina- tion of current information and increased access to campaign strategies, including the Internet, people are more educated and informed about the political decisions that they need to make. Stress on the importance of education, e.g., girls’ education, is re- sulting in education for more of the population. Sex education is helping to prevent HIV/AIDS and outdated practices. Some setbacks to providing full literacy include lack of sufficient materials. Because of this lack of textbooks and other reading materials, the teacher remains the holder of all knowledge. The lack of critical thinking skills, poor teacher educa- tion, and low teacher motivation need to be addressed. With so many local languages, there can be language barriers. English is taught in all schools fairly early, and most political campaign strategies are in English and Kiswahili. In Kenya, several groups take responsibility for the delivery of nonformal education. Churches have been used as education centers. Media is also a source of 6 Literacy helps to sensitize people about their rights as citizens.
  24. 24. nonformal education. The projects by nonprofit organizations, e.g., the libraries, also have been a source for education. LITERACY AND SOCIOECONOMIC EXTREMISM Breakout session leader: Dr. Sandani Fakir Commentary from the field: Dr. Aslam Adeeb, Dean of Education, Islamia University, Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan Creating macroeconomic growth and prosperity for a privileged few is not enough to combat socioeconomic extremism for masses of people. Prosperity is like a pile of fertilizer—it must be spread around before things grow. It is important to understand that strong economic growth is not an end in itself. Economic growth is a means to generate employment, banish poverty, hunger, and homelessness, and to improve the standard of living of all people. The growth just needs to reach the people. Spreading prosperity, while not a silver bullet, does help in combating extremism. Conversely, people in poverty and illiteracy are easy prey for extremists to exploit. The definition of literacy is changing in Pakistan to address the need of the changed socioeconomic situation. The process of teaching and the integration of dif- ferent contexts are very important. It was also emphasized that in many literacy proj- ects, there is no follow-up. It is necessary to have a sustainable follow-up mechanism to mentor and follow-up for the teachers. The government of Pakistan (GOP) is taking various steps to tackle socioeconom- ic extremism. The GOP is very sensitive to its position in globalization and the cur- rent world scenario. It is doing its best to help the local NGOs and civil society or- ganizations to handle the needs of teachers and students. The group discussed some of the USAID-funded Education Sector Reform Assistance Project (ESRA) activities, which were very successful. Although many projects ignore the need for social cohe- sion and linkages as part of their goals, ESRA did a good job, especially in Baluchistan and Sindh, of integrating the work of the public and private sectors. At least one participant felt that literacy by itself does not accomplish much, and literacy and numeracy alone do not succeed in combating economic extremism. Several advocated for functional literacy: literacy, numeracy, and functional aware- ness. This combination helps to ensure marketable skills and employment for learn- ers once the literacy instruction is completed. A question about the Madrassas was very timely. Islamic schools, or Madrassas, are usually misunderstood. Madrassa in Arabic is just the translation of school. All the scholars and thinkers of the Arab world went to Madrassas. Madrassas teach a com- plete lifestyle, not only Quranic education. But for some small number of derailed schools, we often blame the whole system. It is also important to know that Madrassas provide food and shelter for vulnerable children where there is no socioeconomic safety net. The group concluded that poverty is one of the major hurdles but is not the only one. There are limitations even in the developed countries to tackle the problem of illiteracy. Literacy must boost the human spirit as well as increase productivity in terms of wealth. Speakers also highlighted a need for more awareness to address the global problems of illiteracy and poverty and called for allocation of more resources Global Perspectives on Literacy | April 2007 23 Creating macroeconomic growth and prosperity for a privileged few is not enough to combat socioeconomic extremism for masses of people.
  25. 25. 24 Literacy: A Path Out of Extremism? towards education. They also called for increased public–private support for imple- menting literacy projects and programs in the developing world. In all of the different situations in which people need to deal with those who have power, literacy is only a part of a larger equation. Those unable to read are likely to be more intimidated in these situations, but their powerlessness is not just about the lack of a technical skill. It is clearly linked to social status, confidence, and self-esteem. The dynamics of power are linked to a wide range of other forms of communication. LITERACY AND CULTURAL EXTREMISM Breakout session leader: Dr. Timothy Shanahan, IRA President Literacy can help to combat cultural extremism. Alternatively, culture affects the definition of literacy and what it entails. Understanding other cultures is key to help- ing to improve literacy. In order to improve the quality of literacy instruction in oth- er cultures, we must first understand those cultures. Knowing the dynamics of a cul- ture is important if we want to help children take the spoken word and convert it to critical literacy skills. The “value of literacy” needs to be developed before instruction is provided. We need to ask if in a given society there is the tradition of asking ques- tions, the notion of ambiguity, or the simple questioning of what is learned. Once we understand how literacy is viewed and appreciated and what are the accepted prac- tices and behaviors, then we can work toward improving the technical aspects of liter- acy such as teaching programs and pedagogy. Given this caveat, in this rapidly changing world, literacy can be used as a tool for understanding various cultures and merging different cultures. Literacy can allow people to communicate and work together despite differing social, economic, and religious backgrounds. How then, can we increase literacy? Popular culture can be used to spread the importance of literacy. We must discov- er where the power is in getting the learners’ attention. Is it in books, magazines, tele- vision, or music? Are certain topics more motivating than others? For example, reli- gion was once a primary motivator for learning to read. Once the “power sources” are discovered, planners can use the culturally appropriate mediums and messages that will motivate people to want to learn to read. Regardless of the medium, it is im- portant that learners feel that it will make a difference if they do read and write. Furthermore, we need to go beyond the teaching of basic literacy skills. People need more than the simple ability to read and write. In order to improve the quality of their lives, individuals need to develop critical thinking skills that will help them make better choices when making decisions pertaining to their sustenance, health, and economy. Most importantly, we need to emphasize the human experience. When addressing the challenges of racism and other forms of cultural extremism, we need to instill in children the idea of seeing the commonalities and relating to these experiences and not just seeing the differences. This will help children comprehend other cultures as well as value the importance of literacy.