Today, 500 years after the invention of a revolutionizing technology that changed the way people learn and transformed education, one-fifth of the world's population still lacks the fundamental skills necessary to take advantage of that technology.
So what was this revolutionary technology? The printed book.
According to the the Human Development 2007/2008 report by the United Nations Development Programme, world wide literacy rates are at an all-time high, yet only 82% of the adult population has basic literacy skills. For young adults, ages of 15-24 years of age, the literacy rate is better reaching about 87%.
In the least developed countries in the world, only 53% of the adult population can read.
Although literacy rates in the developed countries like the United States are higher than the developing world, US literacy rates are still worrisome at a time when it is increasingly important to continue to learn new ideas and skills in order to succeed in the emerging knowledge economy.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that about 14% of US adults have below basic skills in the ability to comprehend and use written materials. It is also important that literacy rates in the US did not improve between 1992 and 2003.
The digital divide is important to address, but the literacy divide still deserves our attention. Likewise, the digital divide will not be overcome without serious attention to the literacy divide.