2021 International Literacy Day: Sub-Saharan Africa Must Play Catch-Up To Reach The Level Of Achievement Of Other Regions—The “World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy” held in Tehran, Iran in 1965 considered first International Literacy Day. However, the Day was first celebrated in 1966 at the instigation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Since 1946, UNESCO has been playing a key role in enriching universal literacy and encouraging International Literacy Day.
As of 1967, all-over the globe, diverse stakeholders including governments, civil society organizations, local communities and experts have been marking the International Literacy Day (ILD) annually to assert the significance of literacy for society. Despite progress made, literacy challenges persist with at least 773 million young people and adults lacking basic literacy skills today.” (UNESCO)
The International Literacy Day (ILD) 2021 will be celebrated under the theme “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”. As stated in the volume:9 Issue:1 of the International Journal of Education & Literacy Studies, literacy is essential for the development of any nation. Literacy is at the bottom of the progress of any state. It encloses many important domains such as education, health, agriculture, and more (IJELS, 2021).
Unfortunately, Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in particular is, once again, lagging behind other regions of the world. According to Biale Zua (IJELS, 2021) in spite of the importance of literacy to any nation, adult literacy is still a challenge in many African countries. Although, progress has been made over the years to overcome illiteracy, adult literacy is still elusive. Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest adult literacy rates in the world with a 61 percent average literacy rate (UNESCO, 2019).
UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS) data on education shows that Sub-Saharan Africa, as in previous years, remains the region with the highest out-of-school rates for all age groups. Of the 59 million out-of-school children of primary school age, 32 million, or more than one-half, live in sub-Saharan Africa, UIS data illustrates. Southern Asia has the second-highest number of out of school children with 13 million. Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest rate of exclusion, with 19% of primary school-age children denied the right to education, followed by Northern Africa and Western Asia (9%) and Southern Asia (7%). (Fact Sheet no. 56 September 2019 UIS/2019/ED/FS/56).
This situation could be attributed to several factors such as the government’s stand on literacy. Zua (2021) argued that “The government plays a significant role in the literacy rate of its country. The value placed on literacy by the government affects the participation in literacy programs, which determines the literacy rate.” He further noted that if a government values literacy, it will promote literacy.
Literacy involves a continuum of learning that enables individuals to achieve their goals, develop their knowledge and potentials, and empowers them to participate fully in their community and wider society (UNESCO, 2005). It is, therefore, urgent for African countries to inverse their order of priorities by giving more attentions to literacy in order to liberate their peoples from the “chains” of ignorance so that they can be equipped with the requisite knowledges to overcome their doldrums and transform their societies for the better.
For the African continent to overcome its challenges, literacy must be considered by every country as a cornerstone for any meaningful development. As such, we urge African governments:
- to take selfless steps to eradicate adult illiteracy in their various countries,
- to expand access to adult literacy opportunities to include school dropouts and those adults who have never been formally educated,
- to adequately fund literacy programs in order to achieve specific goals and
- to curb the rate of basic school dropouts by formulating policies that will enhance the successful completion of Primary and Secondary education.
Let us make literacy a cornerstone of Africa’s progress!
Africa Participatory Governance Forum