Literacy Can Improve Life

Literacy Can Improve Your Quality Of Life

Vice Chair Sabree Education Services Gambia

Literacy is the ability to read and write in one’s native tongue. However, many people are not able to read and write in their native language. Reading and writing is critical for living in the 21st century and beyond. Which is why we must tackle Illiteracy, a huge problem in the Black community including people of African descent around the world.

In a modern context, we must recognize that literacy, reading and writing, is one of the many ways we can liberate ourselves as Africans and become self-determining people. When we write our own stories we’ll tell the truth about our histories, and our children will be able to read about the greatness of our ancestors – told from our perspective. When people are able to read and write it helps them to reason, think critically and problem solve among other things. When our people are able to read and write they can develop a love of self and not spend millions on bleaching creams, instead investing their money in our continent for its development, for its future. When will policy makers on our continent start looking towards the future and investing in human capital when it comes to literacy?

Literacy Can Improve Life1200x300Illiteracy is defined as not knowing how to read or write beyond a basic level, understanding directions, or having the capacity to complete tasks in a timely manner.

A person can either be purely or functionally illiterate. Purely illiterate individuals cannot read or write in any capacity for all practical purposes. In contrast, functionally illiterate individuals can read and potentially write simple sentences with a limited vocabulary, but cannot read or write well enough to handle the daily requirements of life in their own society.

Many young children on our continent enter school speaking their native tongue  however, do not experience any continuity with that language – instead being taught in Arabic or a European language. This process of language learning might be disruptive to our young learners, as research shows that when young children have the foundation of literacy in their native tongue it is easier for them to transition to another language.

According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, at least 14% of adults across the world are illiterate. In 2015, 58 million children and 63 million teenagers did not have access to basic and secondary education and were not able to learn how to read or write; with women representing two thirds of 781 million illiterates worldwide. The report also cites that 9 out of 10 countries with the highest illiteracy rate are African countries! (For more details see Global Education Monitoring Report.)

According to an infograph released by the Unesco Institute for Statistics on Literacy as of 2015, sub-Saharan Africa has a 64% literacy rate. South Sudan ranks lowest of them all, with a literacy rate of just 27%,  Burkina Faso at 28.7%, Niger at 28.7%, Mali at 33.4%, Chad at 35.4%, Somalia at 37.8%, Ethiopia at 39%, Guinea at 41% and Benin at 42.4%. This same research  found that of the 774 million illiterate adults recorded in 2013, two thirds of these, or about 493 million, are women who are unable or have difficulties reading text messages, filling out forms and reading their doctor’s prescription. Additionally, there are 123 million people between 15 and 24 years of age who cannot read or write. Of these illiterate youth, 76 million are women and 54 million of them are based in only nine countries: IndiaPakistanNigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Republic of TanzaniaEgypt and Burkina Faso.

Currently The Gambia has a 36% literacy rate. Statistics also show that the median age of the population in the Gambia from 1950 to 2050* is 17.5 years old. With a strong youth population, Gambia must take seriously the cause of literacy and recognize the need to educate young boys and girls.

These statistics are mind blowing considering our continent has the youngest population on the planet. With this knowledge, when will policy makers begin to do long term planning for the next 100 years by investing in our infants and toddlers? What is the plan to increase literacy? What is the plan for our youth population? Will we allow them all to flee their communities to Europe or South America on makeshift boats?

Educating your youth population is crucial for our continent’s continued positive growth, and development. When we invest in literacy, we will also see the results in our people. Among the several benefits of literacy in an individual, the ability to read and write helps to build self-esteem and self confidence in citizens.

Part of this self-confidence comes from one’s ability to express oneself with an extensive vocabulary. The inability to express yourself through writing or speaking can be frustrating. This can lead to anxiety, depression, or other issues that impact the overall quality of life. The more able a person is to express themselves, the greater their confidence, their self-esteem, and their chance at living a happy, healthy life.

Many of our young children (0-5yrs) on the continent do not have access to books.These early years are critical for brain development, as the architecture of the brain is being formed. Not having access to books the young brain is missing out on valuable experiences  that young children need,we call them life skills.

Having access to books expands the knowledge of young children, allowing them to learn about other children’s culture and beliefs. Books allow children to enhance their communication skills and learn how to make decisions and have choices. When reading, books can transport them to new places, and help them learn, creative out of the box thinking.

The World Literacy Foundation reported that illiteracy and low levels of literacy estimated costs total approximately £800 billion to the global economy annually. Global economies are moving towards a knowledge-based economy, to adequately prepare our communities, literacy will be an essential skill to compete in the global economy. With the high proportion of illiterate adults on the continent so many opportunities remain inaccessible as individuals are not adequately skilled to participate in this growing global economy. This results in slower GDP growth in the long term.

As an educator, I have observed that investing in infants and toddlers gives our society a 100% Return on Investment (ROI). When children get to kindergarten with pre-literacy skills, they will begin a journey of lifelong learning and grow up to be positive contributors to our continent. Investing in the early years will help prepare the next generation of African leaders and citizens. When we encourage children in this way, we help develop children’s brains, so they grow up to become adults who are able to use their executive functioning.

I hope that policy makers on the African continent will begin to understand the many  benefits of having a literate continent. When we invest in literacy during the first 2000 days we will have a literate continent. When we invest in the future now, our continent will be able to compete in the global economy in the future. Let’s get our children ready to participate in 21st and 22nd century markets.

Daseta Gray

Vice Chair,  Sabree Education Services Gambia

Edited by: Nyasha Franklin


  • Basit, Nimra. “15 Reasons Why Reading Is Important.” Curious Desire, 26 Oct. 2021, 
  • Dirie, Waris. “Africa Has the Highest Illiteracy Rate Worldwide.” Save a Little Desert Flower, 29 Mar. 2016, 
  • Giovetti, Olivia. “6 Benefits of Literacy in the Fight against Poverty.” Concern Worldwide, 27 Apr. 2020, 
  • Cago, Lanessa. “25 Most Illiterate Countries.” WorldAtlas, WorldAtlas, 25 Apr. 2017, 
  • Low, Amanda, and Nicola Miranda. “The Impact of Illiteracy and the Importance of Early Intervention.” World Literacy Foundation, 23 July 2021, 
  • “Why Literacy?” World Literacy Foundation, 3 June 2022,
Reading Day with UP, Sun Books and WLF

Reading Day to Encourage Children to Read More

The Reading Day event that took place at Confidence College in the Pretoria CBD on Friday, 15 October, was aimed at inspiring learners to read and add meaning to text in an interactive, fun, and creative way. This event was organized by our partner in South Africa, Dr. Mia le Roux (Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, University of Pretoria), the board member of the Gauteng branch of the Literacy Association of South Africa (Litasa) in collaboration with Mrs Anélize van Eeden (principal of Confidence College) and Dr. Renata Eccles (fourth-year Speech-Language Pathology practical module coordinator in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP). Dr. Le Roux and Dr. Bernice Badal (English Department, UNISA, and chair of the Gauteng branch of Litasa), attended the event at the school and took part in the activities.

Reading Day with UP, Sun Books and WLF


The students of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP, facilitated the activities with the grade RR to grade 7 classes. The events per class started with a song, a rhyme or a brief game focused on the story followed by the story being read. The learners then had the opportunity to do various fun educational activities relating to the different stories read.

Reading Day

The characters in the stories came alive amongst drawings, crowns, cowboy hats, hen- and goat masks, spiderwebs, and many more. In turn, the school came alive with splashes of color in different hues flashing by as busy feet, minds, ears, and hands moved to the rhythm and rhyme of the words making them come alive in a memorable way.

 The principal, Mrs. Van Eeden, said that “the atmosphere was loaded with excitement since the Monday prior to the actual event”. On Friday, she was wearing a story character dress with drawings made by herself and painted by the learners. The staff and learners dressed up in various costumes each relating to a specific story being read per class. Everybody involved felt that it was a highly successful event. Dr. Badal offered special thanks to the principal and staff “who showed us that growing up does not mean that we need to forget that learning is fun”. She continued to thank the students from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP, who prepared and executed all the activities with passion and dedication.  She concluded by thanking the sponsors of the event, the World Literacy Foundation (WLF), Sun Books, and Tobias, saying that the Gauteng branch of Litasa is grateful to all the key players that made this day possible and hope that many similar events will take place in future.


Dr. Le Roux mentioned that fostering lifelong literacy is often forgotten in the drive to improve the literacy skills of Foundation Phase learners. However, the need to be competent readers never stops; in fact, it becomesReading aloud at the classroom more important as learners enter higher grades and the need for reading and understanding complex academic text increases. This event by the Gauteng branch of Litasa is therefore seen as the first of many, especially as the principal of the school expressed the hope that the Reading Day will be repeated on a yearly basis.

The students involved stated that one must never forget that literacy forms the foundation of academic success. They mentioned that participating in the Reading Day at Confidence College was a privilege and working with the learners was extremely exciting and rewarding. The final year Speech-Language Pathology students also conducted hearing screening on 33 children with the support of a Master’s audiology student. There are plans to conduct hearing screening on more children from Confidence College next year. This community engagement project allowed the students from the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP, to accumulate much needed practical hours. Dr. Eccles observed that the students had the opportunity to have fun within their professional training. She continued to say that the students “got a chance to remember the reason they do all this hard work and the difference they can make!”. 

Finally, Prof Jeannie van der Linde, head of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at UP concluded with the following statement: “As a department, we strive to improve the literacy of our children to ensure that they have the capacity to excel academically. Book reading from an early age is one of the best ways of improving literacy abilities in young children. Fostering a love for reading is, therefore, the name of the game.” 



University of Pretoria

Dr. Mia le Roux (Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, University of Pretoria)

Dr. Renata Eccles (fourth-year Speech-Language Pathology practical module coordinator in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, UP)

africa online education 2

Disparity Between Ideal and Real Online Education

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought new approaches but also new challenges to the world. Education systems have been affected and consequently are witnessing significant changes in their policies and methodologies.

The Online Education

UNESCO suggests different ways to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on education, some of them are linked to technological platforms and the internet.

In some African countries, an introduction of online learning resources and strategies has allowed learning to continue. This approach seems ideal, considering the need for social distancing measures, however, there are challenges not yet addressed by governments hoping to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the education sector.

Access to the Internet

In 2018, a UN study published through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), showed that only half of the world population had access to the internet. For instance, in Africa, around 24% of the population use the internet (an increase from 2.1% in 2005).

Although access to the internet is increasing, there are many countries in Africa where a large percentage of the population is still offline. High prices, slow connections and weak infrastructure have been reported as the main problems and definitely limit the effectiveness of teaching and learning through online platforms.

africa online education 1

Teachers Training

An effective and inclusive implementation of online education must also consider factors such as learning resources and teacher training. There is vast inequality in the access to digital learning tools, including infrastructure, equipment and teacher’s preparedness.

But it’s not all bad news. The online teaching practices during the Covid-19 crisis are pushing the education sector for a technology upgrade and a positive system transformation that will endure into the future.


  • UN
  • ITU
featured illiteracy poverty

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Illiteracy

illiteracy povertyIt is undeniable that poverty has a direct impact on children’s development. Millions of children around the world live in poverty and suffer from human rights violations, such as abuse and working exploitation.

Literacy seems to be the key to lifting children out of poverty, but what if their minds are overwhelmed by stress? According to research, children raised in poverty are more prone to suffer from stress and the long-term effects can be detrimental. They will struggle to make informed decisions, recall information, and exercise sound judgment. Their creative thinking abilities will also be limited.

It is therefore imperative that the effects of stress are taken into consideration when outlining strategies to reduce illiteracy.

Transform the Role of Teachers

illiteracy povertyTo empower children to participate and ask questions, teachers must establish a learning environment based on psychological safety. Some strategies include sticking to a predictable schedule, celebrating small goals, and personally addressing each child’s needs.

Since poverty can impact memory, it is also crucial that teachers extend patience and reassure students that it is okay to make mistakes. Fear of punishment or embarrassment will only stifle curiosity.

Finally, teachers must be trained to monitor and identify signs of stress in their students, should they need additional support.

Involve Parents and Families

Research shows that parents in poverty may become less inviting and compassionate as they try to balance finances, health, and caregiving. If parents are emotionally distant and cannot afford to prioritize their children’s development, this will cause additional stress.

As literacy requires time, encouragement and practice, children without support will lose out on valuable opportunities to apply their learning. By providing parents with support in the form of plans, materials, and a forum to seek advice, they can play a more active role in integrating literacy and a well-rounded education into their child’s day-to-day life.

poverty illiteracy 3Enable Social Connection

Children in poverty and living under stressful situations often feel alienated from others and have difficulty expressing themselves. Loneliness will only increase the anxiety they feel, further inhibiting their potential and continuing the cycle.

To foster more connection, children should be taught in collaborative settings. Encouraging children to read alongside their peers, share feedback, and build relationships provides a more engaging and enriching experience. A good learning experience that produces results should not feel like work – it should be fun!

The World Literacy Foundation strives to ensure its initiatives mitigate stress. Parental guides are provided to empower families to support children at home. Children also have access to literacy tutoring sessions in which they can safely learn, play, and even share a meal. The WLF has rolled out initiatives like the Kids Read One! Project to allow an entire class to read, learn, and socialize together.

Written by: Charanya Thiyan


featured literacy Sun books

Literacy, the Access Code to Healing the World

Education in Nigeria The World Literacy Foundation as a global non-profit organization that seeks to create a greater understanding and awareness of literacy to the wider community through the use of social media, conferences, media, training, research, and collaborative partnerships in the sector. A case study undergone in Nigeria, known as the giant of Africa reports that 35 percent of its adult population is illiterate, and this number remains high because solutions made to address the issue have not seen success in yielding desired results.  Indeed, it is worrisome that 35 percent of the nation’s population is currently facing the consequences of illiteracy. Moreover, it is often unknown that the high rate of illiteracy is, in part, due to the low level of development in Nigeria.  Growth and development in any nation are dependent on the quality of resources available to the entire population.  

Sun BooksUsing solar power to educate

Sun Books is an initiative developed by the World Literacy Foundation that has designed and developed educational software that is preloaded onto solar-powered tablets.  Each tablet contains digital content and eBooks in English and the local language. Tablets are given to classrooms of early primary-level children, and teacher training on the usage of the program is also provided. Each tablet is effective, regardless of Internet access or electricity, which is important in territories such as Uganda where only 26.7% of the population has access to electricity, and Internet connectivity is limited, unstable, and low-speed.  

Ending the poverty cycle

Sun BooksAt the moment our team is based in Gulu, Uganda and we are expanding the project into other locations in Africa such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Guyana, and South Africa. We believe in literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning and education, and people that cannot read or write experience difficulties in developing simple everyday tasks, such as reading medicine labels, filling in job applications, or understanding traffic signs. When we help people to acquire literacy skills, we are empowering them to afford better opportunities in life, and little by little we are striving to break the poverty cycle.
featured covid19

Education in Sub Saharan Africa

covid3The barriers of virtual teaching The COVID-19 outbreak has stopped the world in its tracks. It has unavoidably brought about a temporal lockdown of schools and colleges across the globe. As a result, a shifted focus on virtual teaching and learning has been an inevitable option for many educational institutions. Unfortunately, however, this path has not proven to be a panacea to the problem of disruptions in learning conditions but has instead, highlighted the educational inequity in the world. Students living in disadvantaged areas are faced with challenges such as lack of technological devices at home, limited or no internet connection, digital illiteracy, and electricity shortage.  According to the UNESCO, approximately 56 million of the world’s population live in areas that do not have access to a mobile network. Sub-Saharan Africa constitutes half of this population. 90 percent of students do not have household computers, while 82 percent are unable to get online.  

Sun Books 1

The low-cost tech solution to education

The digital divide continues to widen in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, there are more than 120 million children and students out of school in West and Central Africa and those in excluded areas cannot keep up with homeschooling. Online distant education is an adequate initiative for keeping students learning during COVID-19 pandemic but many youths and children in rural communities are lagging in technological advancement. Several bodies are working to investigate and explore new technological innovations that promote and facilitate online teaching and learning in rural areas. For instance, the World Literacy Foundation has developed the Sun Books App that is pre-loaded onto solar-powered tablets, allowing African youths and children who live in remote localities access to hundreds of eBooks, literacy activities, and videos without internet connection or electricity. This is a low-cost solution that will keep children in a disadvantaged condition at home learning during the school’s lockdown.

How can we help?

If e-Learning initiatives are going to be implemented in developing countries like those in Sub-Saharan Africa, there should be proper education policies supported by the right innovative learning/teaching tools and a solid educational infrastructure in place. At the moment, there are many non-profit organizations working day by day to mobilize resources to assist learners in low-income areas. Still, they have been unable to successfully accomplish their objectives due to a lack of financial and human resources. It is time to join forces and foster partnerships to complement the efforts of these organizations towards meeting the needs of students who are now at home susceptible to educational setbacks. With this, the goal of quality education would be attainable without any community, classroom, or individual falling behind. Help the World Literacy Foundation close the educational gap and promote educational equality for all.

Written by: Aduloju Favour.
Edited by: Jennifer Rennie – Blue Autumn Copy




©Copyright Sun Books. All right reserved.

An initiative by the World Literacy Foundation

©Copyright Sun Books. All right reserved. An initiative by the World Literacy Foundation

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