Towards literacy for everybody

To mark International Literacy Day, we reflect on the achievements - and challenges - of bringing education to children in poverty.

Literacy – it’s a key component of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Since 2015, many world leaders are aiming to promote universal education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives.

But while literacy rates have steadily increased for the past three decades, research emphasises that poverty is one of the main barriers that children face to achieving literacy and reaching their full potential.

To mark International Literacy Day – held on 8 September every year – we spoke with Gabrielle Bourke, who supports the acquisition and integration of high-impact, field driven resources at World Vision Australia.

During the first week of September, Gabrielle visited Malawi assisting those in need of literacy resources. 

education literacy international day

Gabrielle in Malawi assisting a community of children

To gain further insight on how young people are fighting against poverty to achieve an education, Gabrielle sheds light on her experiences with World Vision and educates young people here in Australia on how they can help create change. 


To start things off, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background in providing educational resources to young people living in poverty? 

As part of my work with World Vision, I link with our teams across Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific to understand and respond to resource gaps in our education programming. Our team partners with businesses and NGOs across Australia to provide new resources to our field programs – story books and textbooks to promote literacy and numeracy, educational games and toys for play-based learning, and general school supplies to support classroom activities. We also provide bicycles and wheelchairs to enhance accessibility, and reusable feminine hygiene kits to boost girls’ attendance. My role is to ensure these resources are field-led and well-integrated to support our education programming. 


What programs are World Vision currently actioning around the world?

World Vision’s current education initiatives aim to ensure access to quality education opportunities for children and youth, 3-18 years of age, from preschool through the completion of secondary school or vocational training. We focus on six key areas of education: 

  • Early childhood development
  • Literacy and basic education
  • Education in emergencies
  • Adolescent life skills and vocational training
  • Safe schools
  • Equal access to education


In your opinion- what other initiatives are being actioned in Australia that you think are achieving the goal of providing literacy resources to young people living in poverty?

There are many inspiring initiatives that are committed to providing literacy resources to young people across Australia. For me, some of the most innovative and exciting work is around connecting young Indigenous Australians with local languages, encouraging children to be fluent in ‘both ways’ learning. The Indigenous First Language program by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation is a great example of collaborating with local communities and empowering Indigenous children to become learners in their Mother Tongues.

How can we make literacy resources easily accessible when costs of programs and resources are becoming more technology based and more expensive, even for the average young Australian?

Accessibility of literacy resources can be influenced by a range of factors – cost, geography, language, ability. We need to address accessibility across these dimensions if we are to ensure quality education for all. Local libraries, whether school or community-based, are a great way to connect children and young people with a range of literacy resources for learning and leisure. Digital resources, including games and apps that facilitate play-based learning for literacy and numeracy, can help to reinforce skills in an interactive and engaging way. Availability of inclusive literacy resources – such as audio and Braille books – are also vital to ensure equitable access for children with differing abilities.  


In your opinion- are young Australians aware of their basic human rights to education? How do you think they can be more informed? 

Education is a fundamental human right to enable agency, freedom and participation in society. Regardless of age, race, gender, language, ability – everyone has the right to a quality education and the opportunity to realise their full potential. I think young Australians are aware of their right to education, but in an indirect way – we often take for granted the Australian education system. It’s not necessarily about being ‘more informed’ – more so, being grateful for the opportunities we have in Australia, and making the most of a free, fair and quality education to become informed and compassionate global citizens.


Given that relatively young people are affected by this issue- how can young people in Australia get involved and help make a difference to this global issue?

Young people in Australia can get involved and make a difference by first becoming informed about the challenges faced by children globally in accessing their right to education. Research the various barriers that prevent children and young people from receiving a quality education and explore ways in which you might be able to help support. It might be volunteering at your local library, tutoring refugee or migrant children in English language, holding a school fundraiser to support NGO education programs, or donating directly to an NGO that supports and promotes literacy in Australia or internationally.


Do you think prompting the use of resources and literacy education to young people living in poverty will help deepen young people’s ‘connection to country’ particularly in instances voicing their opinion on global issues affecting young people and children? 

Enhancing quality and access to education will always run parallel to increased agency and awareness of rights. This in turn can encourage young people to ‘speak up’ and voice their opinions on global issues. For young people living in poverty, education is a powerful tool to advocate and realise change in local or global arenas.


The second Millennium Development Goal (MDG) aimed to achieve universal primary education for all. At the end of the 15-year MDG program, 58 million children of primary school age (roughly six to 11 years old) remained out of school. These children are a reminder of the broken promise to achieve universal primary education by 2015. How can we inspire young people that hope will be restored for children with no education in developing countries after false promises like this have been made in the past? 

The second MDG was heralded as simultaneously the world’s “most ambitious and pathetic goal” – ambitious because 100 million children were still out of school, but pathetic because primary education is not sufficient to equip the future citizens and leaders of our world. We can inspire young children that hope will be restored by advocating our leaders – in government, private and non-profit sectors – to prioritise universal primary and secondary education, in local, national and global development agendas. The Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment issued at the 2019 G7 Leaders’ Summit gives new momentum to ensure education for all children, with a welcome focus on girls’ education and gender equality. We can also inspire young people by amplifying the voices of children and young people who face and overcome challenges in accessing their education.


Gabrielle hopes to see our world leaders putting the education of young people at the heart of global development agendas and creating space for them to share their stories and lead change in their communities.



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