Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Christine Susanne Mueller

4 Weeks to Davos: The Trillion-Dollar Cost of Illiteracy

17 weeks to Davos. 17 global goals to achieve a sustainable future. 17 blog posts exploring the UN’s vision for humankind. Here is number 4.

Global Goal #4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

As a child, was school something you took for granted as an accepted, ordinary part of your life? Were you able to attend school beyond the primary grades? And did your education help you get you where you are today?

Not everyone in the world has the privilege of education and the benefits learning brings. In fact, a recent report from the World Literacy Foundation states that more than 796 million people in the world cannot read and write. And with one in five people worldwide struggling with illiteracy, the cost to the global economy is more than $1 trillion dollars each year.

On its site, UNICEF says, “When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come. Education ends generational cycles of poverty and disease and provides a foundation for sustainable development.”

The ripple effect: Fueling a sustainable future

To create sustainable futures, there must be educated workers who can support government, private sector businesses, and other organizations that fuel economic growth. To build an educated workforce, children must be provided the opportunity to learn.

Let’s take a look at Africa. According to World Economic Forum, Africa has the largest youth demographic across the globe. Over the next 25 years, it is estimated that the continent’s working-age population will double to one billion, exceeding that of China and India. It is expected that 112 million workers will enter Africa’s labor force by 2020.

However, nearly 35% of Africa’s youth lack the basic skills required to perform a job, and in particular, they lack technology training. Initiatives like Africa Code Week, which launched in the fall of 2015, are changing this. Nearly 90,000 youth from 17 African countries participated in more than 3,000 free coding workshops to learn the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century digital workforce and further Africa’s economic development.

How was Africa Code Week made possible? One key enabler is massive open online courses (MOOCs), which provide learning that is as immersive and detailed as any classroom experience. The thousands of children that participated in the coding workshops in Africa simply needed a computer and access to the Internet to download the Scratch programming language that was used. There was also an online community where students created their own interactive stories, games, and animations.

Women: Transforming communities – and nations

Educating women is key to a sustainable future as well, but many women around the world are denied the opportunity to learn.

For instance, a State of Food and Agriculture report states that women in many developing countries do not have equal access to the agricultural resources and opportunities. According to the report, closing the gender gap between men and women in agricultural yields could reduce the number of people that are undernourished (nearly a billion) by as much as 100 to 150 million people.

Let’s look at Africa again, where according to a report called “Leveling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa,” agriculture accounts for nearly 40% of the continent’s gross domestic product.  The report notes that traditionally, women have provided roughly half of all agricultural labor in Africa, yet their access to land, tools, education, and financing is much less than what men are provided. 

Initiatives such as the StarShea Network are changing this. The network now has more than 15,000 women shea nut farmers. StarShea has provided the women with information technology, education, and microfinancing so they can conduct business independently and sustainably. With 62 metric tons of shea butter sold in its first year, StarShea Ltd., the commercial arm of the network, is now one of the top four exporters in Ghana. 

As its Web site notes, the women in the StarShea networks are given the opportunity to take charge of their lives and achieve a higher standard of living for themselves and their families. They can provide themselves and their family’s health care, reduced economic risk, and a brighter future. 

SAP is doing its part

SAP takes ensuring inclusive and quality education seriously as part of its vision and purpose, which is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.

In addition to being a co-sponsor of Africa Code Week, SAP also was a key contributor of services, technology, and funding to the StarShea Network. Additionally, SAP opened up digital literacy centers in 12 cities across India in partnership with the Nasscom Foundation. This is part of the government’s Digital India program, which hopes to educate and empower citizens with IT skills such as how to use email, social media, and the Internet to access government services.

Over the next 15 years and beyond, SAP will continue to advance the achievement of each and every global goal as we improve people’s lives with our dedication, technology, and services. To join us, you can see how digitalization is enabling the global goals by signing up for our free monthly podcasts on Sustainability through Digital Transformation. You can also sign up for a free openSAP MOOC on sustainability and digital transformation that starts in April 2016.

This blog was originally published by Will Ritzrau and myself in the Improving Lives section of the Digitalist. To learn more about the 17 Global Goals and how you can help make the world a better place, follow the 17 Weeks to Davos blog series.

Assigned Tags

      Be the first to leave a comment
      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.