Literacy in a Digital World

Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning

Washington, DC

[Remarks as Prepared]

Honored guests: 

I’d like to extend my warm welcome to all of you, and thanks for joining us in salute of International Literacy Day 2017.  In particular, I want to thank our hosts here at the International Republican Institute, and our panelists from USAID, EDC, Digital Promise, and World Learning.

In the spirit of this year’s UNESCO global theme for literacy day, we are exploring today the implications of an increasingly digital world for improving literacy across all ages—children, youth, and adults.  Digital technologies have transformed our world in the span of a few decades, and the pace of change increases each year.  

There are now more than 7 billion subscriptions to mobile phone services, changing the ways we connect with each other, with information, and with technology.  World Learning used to discourage young people traveling abroad on our exchange program from taking their cell phones along, for fear they would be isolating themselves from the local community.  Then we learned that even in small fishing villages in Tanzania and elsewhere, our exchange students were just about the only ones without a cell phone.  Naturally, these changes transform the way we think about and use literacy as well. 

You have already had a chance to see some ways our panelists’ organizations work with digital technologies to promote emergent and early literacy acquisition, to encourage adults to develop and use their literacy skills, and to empower young people to put higher-order literacy abilities into practice.

Still, we know that digital technologies are not a panacea. The abundance of reading material now available through the internet is alarmingly inconsistent in quality and veracity.  “I read it on the Internet” is no longer an iron-clad guarantee of legitimacy. 

And the digital divide still shuts out at least 4 billion people around the world from access to the internet at all, reinforcing the marginalization of women, people with disabilities, indigenous populations, and others.  These sobering realities call for serious ongoing discussions like today’s event.

At World Learning, we promote education, development, and international exchange to build a more just, inclusive, prosperous, and peaceful world—and universal literacy plays a key role in achieving that vision.

Thanks again for your willingness to share your afternoon and your wise counsel with us here today, and I look forward to hearing your discussion. 

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