Almost 600 years ago the mass produced written word was enabled by a new and innovative social technology—the printing press. This innovation changed how we connected, communicated, collaborated and shaped our communities. Attributed to Johannes Gutenberg in 1436 the printing press also had a dramatic impact on literacy for one very simple reason. The cost to becoming literate dropped dramatically because the cost of access to the written word also dropped significantly.
Lower book prices by 60 or 70% meant that more people could access the written word. Learning how to read and becoming literate was not only possible for many more people because they now had access to the written word, but it was also dramatically less expensive.
The World Runs On Literacy
The explosion in literacy that followed in the years after Gutenberg's invention also had a very positive economic impact. Economic growth in the economies that were early adopters of the printing press was almost 400% greater than in other economies. Literacy was clearly good for society and good for business.
Fast forward six centuries and the OECD just backed this up with an extensive study on the value of high levels of adult literacy. In short, there are incredible social outcomes that can be attributable to high levels of literacy from high wages, to political efficacy, to employment and social tolerance and trust. These outcomes are much more likely when there are high levels of literacy by an order of magnitude of 200%-300%, i.e., at a level of 4/5. Thank you Mr. Gutenberg and thank you in advance, to today's social technology as well.
How Low Can We Go
But here's the bad news. According to UNESCO there are still almost 1 billion people on the planet who cannot read—that's one out of every seven people. And moreover, the OECD report also emphasizes how low existing levels of literacy are amongst adults age 16-65 in many countries around the world. The low levels of literacy proficiency are surprisingly low. In the United States, 50% of adults have a literacy proficiency level rated below level 3 on the OECD's 5 point scale. In Italy, the number approaches 79%. The most literacy proficient country in the world is is Japan, but still a surprising 28% of adult Japanese are at a low proficiency level in literacy, i.e., below Level 3.
Here's what a proficiency level of 3 gets us. Remember, the OECD has the majority of adults below this level in many countries. But is even Level 3 good enough? I don't think so, especially in a world that is exploding with new data and information thanks to today's social and information technology innovations.
Our future is increasingly dependent on our ability to understand, use and engage the proliferation of text and new information that is now all around us. The need to be highly literate, has never been more vital—for individuals, families, communities, cities, economies, companies, organizations, countries and the planet. The inability to participate in this information driven world will create a new kind of poverty, one driven by the information haves and have nots and low or no levels of literacy.
Curing Illiteracy With Social Technology, Again
Fortunately there are new social technology solutions emerging that take Gutenberg's invention to new levels. I'm working with an innovative social enterprise e-learning company named Skoolbo.com, that is tackling the illiteracy problem head on. This innovator delivers learning sprints around a literacy and numeracy based curriculum (health and fitness is also in the works) that is common core aligned that is having an amazing impact on improving children's learning outcomes.
We've seen improvement results of +50% which is absolutely amazing. Skoolbo delivers a creative learning approach through today's social technology that taps into the individual learning DNA of students aged 4-12. Highly engaging—the more that kids use Skoolbo, the better they do. And even better, Skoolbo is FREE.
We believe that Skoolbo can be an effective learning tool for children all over the planet to help them learn to read and to ultimately improve literacy levels at a cost of only 10 cents a person. This type of solution is only possible because of today's social technology. Much like Gutenberg did, we have lowered the cost of becoming literate to as low as it's ever been. Our ability to reach people and to teach effectively through these technologies is unprecedented, and the results that are starting to come back are amazing. We have a brand new tool in the war against illiteracy and it's name is Skoolbo.
The future belongs to the highly literate, the past teaches us this. We've made some decent strides in literacy throughout the course of history, but we can do much, much better and we must because the stakes are getting higher due to today's information technology. The future is a new ballgame because Information now drives the world, literacy is it's fuel.
Join The Team
If you are an individual, company or organization that wants to join us in our war against illiteracy, contact me. The smartest kids go to Skoolbo, get it for free.