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?
Illiteracy 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: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt 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.
Vice Chair, Sabree Education Services Gambia
Edited by: Nyasha Franklin
- Basit, Nimra. “15 Reasons Why Reading Is Important.” Curious Desire, 26 Oct. 2021, https://curiousdesire.com/reasons-why-reading-is-important/#5_Reading_Expands_Horizons.
- Dirie, Waris. “Africa Has the Highest Illiteracy Rate Worldwide.” Save a Little Desert Flower, 29 Mar. 2016, https://www.desertflowerfoundation.org/en/news-detail/africa-has-the-highest-illiteracy-rate-worldwide.html.
- Giovetti, Olivia. “6 Benefits of Literacy in the Fight against Poverty.” Concern Worldwide, 27 Apr. 2020, https://www.concernusa.org/story/benefits-of-literacy-against-poverty/#:
- Cago, Lanessa. “25 Most Illiterate Countries.” WorldAtlas, WorldAtlas, 25 Apr. 2017, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-lowest-literacy-rates-in-the-world.html.
- Low, Amanda, and Nicola Miranda. “The Impact of Illiteracy and the Importance of Early Intervention.” World Literacy Foundation, 23 July 2021, https://worldliteracyfoundation.org/early-intervention-reduces-illiteracy.
- “Why Literacy?” World Literacy Foundation, 3 June 2022, https://worldliteracyfoundation.org/why-literacy/.