Gil Mildar
As the song says, a Latin American with no money in his pocket.

Who benefits from functional illiteracy?

In our shared journey through the annals of history and the intricate pathways of human endeavor, a resilient constant stands: the unyielding pursuit of knowledge. This pursuit, forming the very foundation of civilization, has indelibly sculpted the destinies of nations. As we ponder the current state of our world, a profound paradox emerges. In an age where information is more accessible than ever, we grapple with a growing crisis of functional illiteracy.

Historically, literacy has been a beacon of hope, guiding us toward enlightenment. Yet now, this beacon flickers in the shadow of a subtle but formidable threat. Consider Israel, for example, where an impressive 97.1% of the population is literate. Nonetheless, even in this enlightened society, the specter of functional illiteracy casts a long shadow. This challenge is not isolated to developing countries; it is a global predicament, affecting even the most advanced societies.

The core issue does not reside with those lacking educational opportunities but rather with those who, despite education, find it challenging to engage with complex texts and ideas. This crisis is not one of access but of depth and understanding.

Functional illiteracy serves as fertile ground for various beneficiaries, notably extremist right-wing groups led by figures like Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. The inability to critically comprehend complex information creates a vulnerable population susceptible to demagogic and authoritarian narratives.

Moreover, functional illiteracy indirectly aids in manipulating the media landscape. Media outlets, in pursuit of high viewership and engagement, often find it easier to cater to a functionally illiterate audience with sensationalism and simplified content. This perpetuates a cycle where depth and nuance in journalism are sacrificed for quick, attention-grabbing stories.

Another consequence of functional illiteracy is the reinforcement of stereotypes, including the notion that everything associated with the left is inherently flawed. This binary thinking, exacerbated by a lack of critical analysis, hinders meaningful political discourse and perpetuates division.

Confronting the crisis of functional illiteracy is not just an educational imperative; it is essential for the health of our democracies. We must enrich our educational systems to promote critical thinking and deep engagement with the world.

As Israelis, we must instill in our youth the value of profound understanding. We need a media landscape that prioritizes reflective engagement, challenging its audience to think critically.

In addressing functional illiteracy, we do more than protect the foundations of democracy; we also resist the rise of authoritarianism and combat the spread of divisive ideologies. We empower our citizens to be well-informed and capable of engaging with, questioning, and shaping the policies that govern their lives.

This is a call to action for us to commit to true literacy. Let us build societies where everyone, regardless of their background, can deeply engage with the world around them. In doing so, we elevate not only individuals but also our nations, our global community, and the trajectory of human progress.

The implications of this crisis extend beyond the mere ability to read and write. Functional illiteracy restricts one’s capacity to participate fully in society, to understand the complexities of global issues, and to make informed decisions. It hinders the development of critical thinking, a skill essential for discerning truth in an era of information overload.

In a world increasingly reliant on digital communication, the ability to navigate, interpret, and evaluate a vast array of information becomes crucial. The digital age, while bringing news closer, also presents new challenges. The ease of access to information is paralleled by the ease of spreading misinformation, making the ability to analyze data more crucial than ever critically.

Functional illiteracy not only affects individuals but also has a profound impact on societies and economies. It limits the potential for economic growth and innovation, as a workforce lacking critical thinking skills can adapt less to changing market demands and technological advancements.

The fight against functional illiteracy requires a multifaceted approach. It demands reform in education systems, where the focus is not only on literacy but on critical literacy – the ability to read and interpret the world critically. This calls for a shift in pedagogical methods, encouraging inquiry-based learning and critical discussion in classrooms.

We must also address the broader societal factors that contribute to functional illiteracy. This includes tackling issues of poverty, inequality, and access to quality education, all of which are intertwined with the ability to develop and maintain literacy skills.

Engaging with communities, mainly those marginalized or underserved, is essential.

Community-based programs focusing on adult education and lifelong learning can be pivotal in addressing functional illiteracy. Moreover, there is a need for collaborative efforts between governments, educational institutions, civil society, and the private sector. Such partnerships can foster innovative solutions and mobilize resources to tackle this global challenge.

The role of technology in combating functional illiteracy must also be recognized. Digital tools and online resources can provide alternative avenues for learning and skills development.

However, this also necessitates ensuring equitable access to technology and digital literacy.

The narrative surrounding literacy must evolve. It is not merely about achieving a certain level of proficiency in reading and writing but about fostering a culture of continuous learning and critical engagement with the world.

In a rapidly changing world, the ability to adapt, learn, and relearn becomes indispensable. Lifelong learning should be embedded in the fabric of our societies, enabling individuals to develop skills relevant to their personal and professional lives continually.

Lastly, we must recognize the role of individual responsibility in addressing this crisis. While systemic changes are necessary, pursuing knowledge and understanding is also a personal journey. Encouraging a culture of curiosity, critical questioning, and a love for learning can ignite individual transformations, contributing to the broader change we seek.

As we move forward, let us recommit to the pursuit of knowledge, not just as a means to an end but as an ongoing journey of discovery and understanding. Let us strive to build inclusive societies where every individual has the tools and opportunities to engage with the world critically and meaningfully. In doing so, we enhance individual lives and contribute to a more informed, resilient, and dynamic global community.

About the Author
As a Brazilian, Jewish, and humanist writer, I embody a rich cultural blend that influences my worldview and actions. Six years ago, I made the significant decision to move to Israel, a journey that not only connects me to my ancestral roots but also positions me as an active participant in an ongoing dialogue between the past, present, and future. My Latin American heritage and life in Israel have instilled a deep commitment to diversity, inclusion, and justice. Through my writing, I delve into themes of authoritarianism, memory, and resistance, aiming not just to reflect on history but to actively contribute to the shaping of a more just and equitable future. My work is an invitation for reflection and action, aspiring to advance human dignity above all.
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