Every year since 1967, the world has set out September 8 to commemorate International Literacy Day. According to UNESCO, the initiators of the event, celebrations take place around the world “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society”. As the world gears up for the 2021 edition, we dive deep into what the celebration is all about. We also examine the historical basis and how Africans can bridge the literacy gap.
What Is The International Literacy Day and Why Is It Celebrated?
The International Literacy Day is an international observance, celebrated each year on 8 September. The date was declared by UNESCO on 26 October 1966 at the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Conference. It was celebrated for the first time in 1967. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies. Celebrations take place in several countries all over the world.
Despite progress made, literacy challenges persist with at least 773 million young people and adults lacking basic literacy skills today. According to a UNESCO 2018 Assessment, 775 million all over the world lack minimum literacy skills. One in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. Also, 60.7 million children are out of school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.
According to UNESCO’s “Global Monitoring Report on Education for All”, South Asia has the lowest regional adult literacy rate (58.6%), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (59.7%). Countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world are Burkina Faso (12.8%), Niger (14.4%), and Mali (19%).
The report shows a clear connection between illiteracy and countries in severe poverty, as well as between illiteracy and prejudice against women. These shortfalls in literacy justify the need to rev up awareness through International Literacy Day celebrations.
The Theme for International Literacy Day 2021
The 2021 edition of the International Literacy Day will take place on September 8, 2021. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”. It will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centered recovery.
Also, there will be a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults. It will also explore what makes technology-enabled literacy learning inclusive to leave no one behind. COVID-19 exposed the digital gap between richer and poorer nations. There is no better time to talk about it than now.
The Causes of Literacy Gap in Africa
As earlier mentioned, many sub-Saharan African nations have some of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Despite efforts by advocacy groups and philanthropists, the trend does not seem to be slowing down. Most African governments claim they are committed to educating their citizens. Nevertheless, the reality remains that African governments are chiefly responsible for Africa’s literacy woes.
Inadequate funding is at the heart of Africa’s literacy gap. In 2020, Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, allocated a paltry 6.7% of its annual national budget to education, a long way from UNICEF’s recommended 26%. Sadly, the story is alike across the board. Because of this neglect, more and more schools in Africa are having to shut down as they no longer have the required facilities to keep the schools running.
Rising insecurity across sub-Saharan countries is also doing the literacy drive no good. Across the continent, the conditions are looking more and more hostile for students to go to school. In the Sahel, jihadi terrorists are claiming more and more territory, forcing schools to shut down. In the East, terrorism and war are preventing students from going to school. Down South, rebel forces are on rampage in the Congo and Burundi. These forces are combining to put more Africans away from classrooms.
In addition, the inextricable relationship between poverty and illiteracy is also responsible for the dwindling literacy rates in Africa. With the failure of governments to make education affordable, rising poverty levels now mean that a lot of Africans cannot afford to go to school.
11 Ways Africans In The Diaspora Can Help Bridge The Literacy GapA major stakeholder in determining the future of Africa and Africans is the population of Africans in the diaspora. Here are some ways in which they can help bridge the literacy gap.
#1. Setting up scholarship funds for bright less-privileged kids
Undoubtedly, the greatest limitation to educating Africans is poverty. For many African nations, millions live below the poverty line and cannot afford any kind of education. Hence, setting up scholarship programs to identify bright students and fund their education will go a long way towards bridging the literacy gap.
#2. Advocacy for better education funding
As the 2021 International Literacy Day approaches, African voices in the diaspora contributing to the discourse on the poor funding of education will certainly help bridge the literacy gap. As key stakeholders in nation-building, Africans abroad must not keep silent in the fight against poor funding for schools.
#3. Founding of schools in rural areas
Another problem with education in Africa is the limited permeability of schools. In many rural areas, there are barely any amenities, including schools, available for children and teenagers. Hence, setting up schools in these areas to provide quality education will do wonders towards bridging the literacy gap.
#4. Founding of special schools for students fleeing war and terrorism
Across Africa, there are many IDP and refugee camps for people fleeing war and terrorism. Like those who live in rural areas, children and teenagers in these camps do not have access to quality education. In fact, a UNICEF study showed that only 14% of children in IDP and refugee camps go to school. Africans in the diaspora can help to bridge the literacy gap by funding the establishment of schools in these areas.
#5. Initiation of school lunch programs
Better nutrition for children leads to better learning in the classroom. When well-fed, children can pay attention in class and assimilate properly. In addition, over time, school feeding programs have shot up enrolment in schools as poor families depend on these programs to feed their wards. Thus, the initiation of school lunch programs for the most vulnerable children across Africa will work wonders towards reducing the rate of school drop-outs and illiterates.
#6. Initiation of far-reaching campaigns for parent sensitization
For many parents who are victims of religious, cultural, and social indoctrination, education has become a taboo. For instance, the Boko Haram terrorist group which vehemently opposes western education continues to draw members from the plentiful supply of young boys from willing parents in Northern Nigeria. The initiation of sensitization campaigns for these parents will lead to increased enrolment in schools.
#7. Advocacy for curriculum reforms
One of the greatest hindrances to quality education in Africa is the poor/antiquated design of curricula. Africans in the diaspora can bring knowledge from their host nations. Sitting together with relevant authorities, they can draft a better curriculum that will bridge the skill gap in Africa. Obviously, Africa needs a shift from the emphasis on paper qualification to skill-based learning.
#8. Driving employment of quality teachers
As important as the founding of good schools is, the place of quality teachers cannot be overemphasized in the fight against illiteracy. There is a direct correlation between the quality of teachers in a society, the quality of education, and the number of educated individuals. If Africans abroad can employ—and advocate for the employment of outstanding teachers, then there is light at the end of the tunnel for African nations.
Alternatively, Africans in the diaspora can schedule a time (even once a year) when they can come back and organize seminars. Also, they can use digital technologies like video conferencing tools to transfer the knowledge they have received from their host nation.
#9. Investing in ICT penetration throughout Africa
According to a 2016 YIAGA Africa study, the penetration of the internet and technology is essential to reducing illiteracy rates. With higher penetration of the internet (especially to the hinterlands) comes better enlightenment and opportunities. The internet makes learning easier and will encourage poor families to tap into the digital economy.
#10. Blending the informal sector with formal education
Vocational schools as a means of curbing illiteracy remain an underestimated solution. When Africans opt to learn a trade, they do so within informal settings. This leaves them with the skill, but not with proper education. Using vocational schools to tackle this problem is a win-win for the nation, the students, and Africa at large.
#11. Initiation of far-reaching campaigns for sensitization of out-of-school children
Sometimes, all it takes to convince unyielding parents is their children’s hunger for school. Whether reluctantly or not, parents often release their wards for schooling when such ward(s) show an unflinching interest in getting educated. Hence, Africans in the diaspora can target the children can work towards instilling the passion for education in young Africans. Perhaps, they can do this by constantly reminding them of the benefits of education.
As the world gears up to celebrate the 2021 International Literacy Day, another opportunity opens for us Africans to stem the literacy gap. Join the celebration by attending conferences such as the UNESCO conference. You can also join advocacy groups to help educate children.
Lend your voice by supporting or granting scholarship opportunities to disadvantaged children. Africa is direly in need of non-governmental resources for the education of children. Through International Literacy Day, stemming the literacy gap is an achievable objective.