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Idris Elba joins campaign to fight illiteracy

The actor has joined forces with formerly illiterate mother turned author

Posted by Hannah Vickers | September 14, 2017 | School life

We are underestimating the scale of illiteracy in the UK by almost 50%, new research released on International Literacy Day has found. When asked, respondents estimated the figure to be 2.7 million when in fact over five million adults in the UK are unable to read and write properly. However, more than a third of people believe that illiteracy is not a prominent issue in the UK.

A new awareness effort from actor and activist Idris Elba and Project Literacy, a global campaign founded by learning company Pearson and made up of over 100 organisations dedicated to ending illiteracy by 2030, is aiming to change that.  

Last week they launched a children’s story with a difference, bringing to life one of the challenges illiterate parents face – not being able to read their children a bedtime story.

‘The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong’ is a fresh re-telling of the classic story ‘Chicken Little’, but with a twist – it has been re-written by Wanda Stewart, who has spent the last year learning to read and write, something that as an adult, she believed she’d never be able to do. 

Illiterate in her early motherhood, Wanda struggled to read bedtime stories to her children when they were young; using her imagination, she made up her own tales to match the illustrations and created a character called ‘Pong-Pong the Brave’. Using the illustrations in ‘Chicken Little’ as inspiration, Wanda has finally been able to put words to a page and make her story into a reality.  

Idris Elba is helping to take Wanda’s story from her imagination to a global audience through contributing a foreword to the book and has filmed a heartfelt bedtime story reading that parents and children alike can enjoy.

84% of parents in the UK regularly read their children a bedtime story, but Project Literacy estimates there are 3.2 million parents in the UK whose low literacy skills prevent them from experiencing this. More seriously, children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72% chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.

Story time has always been one of the most magical and treasured parts of the day for me to connect with my children, but it’s something that millions of parents across the UK who struggle with their reading are missing out on - Idris Elba, Actor and Project Illiteracy Ambassador

“Story time has always been one of the most magical and treasured parts of the day for me to connect with my children, but it’s something that millions of parents across the UK who struggle with their reading are missing out on. However, more alarmingly, it means tasks most people take for granted become impossible, from not being able to read the label on a medicine bottle to not being able to vote,” said Idris Elba, a Project Literacy Ambassador.

“Sadly, this is an issue that is passed on from generation to generation, a cycle that we want to break. Through sharing Wanda’s inspiring journey, we want to help others understand the importance of investing in adult literacy, which is why we’re encouraging as many people as possible to support us by reading Wanda’s story.”

“By re-writing this story, we want to help rewrite the lives of so many adults who struggle with reading and writing and de-stigmatise the issue of illiteracy through increased awareness,” said Kate James, Project Literacy spokesperson and Chief Corporate Affairs and Global Marketing officer at Pearson. 

“Globally, funding for literacy programmes is skewed more heavily towards children in primary and secondary school, rather than youth or adult literacy, yet we know that there’s no way for us to break the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy if we don’t focus on parents. We need to tackle all levels if we’re to close the global literacy gap in the next decade” James continued. 

‘The Little Chicken named Pong-Pong’ will be available for free download from www.projectliteracy.com/rewritinglives. For every book downloaded, Pearson will donate £1 to Project Literacy partners who are helping adults learn to read and write. To learn more about how to help break the cycle of illiteracy, visit www.projectliteracy.com/rewritinglives.

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