Literacy Programs in Sub-Saharan AfricaIn sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in three adults cannot read and 22 percent of primary aged children are not in school. A staggering 48 million youths ranging from ages 15 to 24 are illiterate. In fact, 182 million adults are unable to read and write. Global organizations around the world mobilized literacy programs in sub-Saharan Africa to provide children opportunities to develop and thrive.

Defining the Literacy Crisis

According to the African Library Project, UNESCO defines a literate person as someone who can read and write a short, simple statement about their life. Illiteracy denies people opportunity because it impacts the individual’s active citizenship, health, empowerment and the state of their poverty.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the World Literacy Foundation reports that 27 percent of people are illiterate. This is a part of the world where the cost of a children’s book can be a month’s salary. According to the World Literacy Foundation, millions of classrooms in Africa are located “off the grid” and have limited educational resources and no books.

The reading crisis has led to several strategies for improvement, such as:

  •  promoting a culture of reading
  •  encouraging parents to read to their children
  •  making books accessible in schools and improving initial teacher education through literacy programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Why South Africa?

South Africa was ranked last out of 50 countries in the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) study. The study tested reading comprehension of learners in their fourth year of primary schooling. The organization found that 78 percent of South African pupils at this level could not read for meaning. Consequently, this suggests the need for literacy programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to a reading project called The Book Bus, Malawi is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world. The country faces challenges in education because the student-to-teacher ratio is 120:1. The organization noted how the numbers impacted the vital role teachers play in the classroom. This is especially crucial as books are rare and very expensive in this part of the world, often costing more than one month’s wages.

As a response, The Book Bus reading project has partnered with two local schools in Malawi to support teachers with their literacy programs in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the organization, the Book Bus Reading Team visits the schools weekly and listens to the children read.

Literacy Programs in sub-Saharan Africa

Room to Read began working in South Africa in 2006 as a literacy program. The program was directed toward:

  • teacher training in literacy,
  • school libraries
  • reading materials across many official languages.

The organization has published materials in all eleven of South Africa’s official languages. Their literacy program aligns closely with the government’s educational policies and priorities. Currently, Room to Read in South Africa has reached 469 schools, 1,021 teachers and 362,180 students.

Room to Read collaborates with local communities and governments in developing countries. The program focuses on literacy and gender equality in education. Additionally, the nonprofit works with local villages to build schools and libraries filled with children’s books across South Africa. Room to Read also develops programs to support girls and encourage them to pursue an education.

Publisher Tom Maschler founded the registered charity, The Book Bus, in 2008. Mashchler began work with schools in Zambia, delivering books and working with teachers and volunteers to get more children reading. The program administered reading tests to each child and recorded the scores. Comparatively, the same test was conducted six months later and the results reflected an increase in literacy by an average of 35 percent.

Unique Methods to Literacy Programs

The World Literacy Foundation, under the initiative called Sun Books, designed and developed an app. That app is pre-loaded in a solar-powered device, containing digital content and e-books in English and the local language. The foundation provided the device to classrooms for early primary-level children, along with training for teachers about the device.

According to the foundation, the use of the device is effective regardless of internet or electricity. In territories like Uganda, where only 27 percent of the population has access to electricity and has limited internet access, this is particularly vital.

The Book Bus promotes the image that choosing the right books is crucial to ensure the books are relevant and engaging to each child. Accordingly, the program aids the children as a literacy program in sub-Saharan Africa. It also provides the children access to new worlds and helps expand their knowledge.

How Literacy Promotes Change

Each year, Book Aid creates and supports thousands of school libraries with the belief that books have the power the change lives. This belief is the foundation of their vision, mission and the values which guide the organization.

Additionally, Book Aid provides aid from primary school to university, aiding students and pupils with the books to help them succeed and reach their full potential.

Through collaboration with local governments, Room to Read educates communities on the importance of literacy. Furthermore, the program shows how to play a role in enabling students to succeed through literacy programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

Above all, organizations such as these make it possible to help children combat poverty through literacy programs in sub-Saharan Africa. Donations to help expand Room to Read, Book Aid, The Book Bus and several other global literacy programs can be found on their websites. The sites also provide information on more ways to take action.

– AnaCarolina Chavez
Photo: Flickr

Literacy Fights Poverty
It seems an obvious statement to suggest that reading and writing can improve one’s life. Is it as obvious, however, that if everyone could read and write, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty? These taken-for-granted, simple skills have the power to change our world. Literacy fights poverty in often unheralded ways and the effects of literacy reach beyond the walls of any classroom.

The Economy of Literacy

An economy’s success lies in the spending power of its people. This comes only through more opportunities, more developed skills, better employment and higher salaries.

Employment creation has proven to be the most effective tool in poverty reduction and better employment only comes through better education. In fact, on average, one year of education is estimated to increase wage earnings by 10 percent, and in places like sub-Saharan Africa, by as much as 13 percent.

The numbers are clear. While literacy fights poverty and helps to stabilize the economies of developing nations, illiteracy costs the world about $1.19 trillion every year.

Literacy and Health

Literacy fights poverty in the healthcare arena as well. Being literate helps people better understand health concerns and better educate themselves when it comes to healthcare. This is especially important in developing countries, where disease can dictate a cycle of poverty. The statistics linking literacy and generational health provide clarity:

  • It is estimated that infant mortality rates decrease 9 percent for every year of education attained.
  • Understanding reading and writing makes it 24 percent less likely that children will be underweight or malnourished.
  • People being able to read and write slows the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Maternal education can help mitigate the effects of diseases like pneumonia.

Literacy Empowers

Inequality, specifically gender inequality, stifles economies and prevents generational growth. Two-thirds of the illiterate population of the world are women. It is no surprise, given the destructive social dynamics of so many underdeveloped nations, that every year 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married. Often, these girls see this as their only option when they cannot afford a good education.

Educated women become empowered and take control of their own lives. Education fosters personal autonomy and creative and critical thinking skills, which provide a wider economy and community. According to the World Bank, better-educated women tend to be healthier, have fewer children and marry later in life.

Resilience and Community

Literacy fights poverty through the power of the possible. Without literacy, a lack of choices commits millions to a prison of doubt. Reading and writing have been proven to increase self-confidence, help make informed decisions and provide new job prospects.

Additionally, literacy provides distractions and new pathways away from the prospects of crime or child soldiery. In fact, literacy makes it 50 percent less likely that people will commit robbery or murder.

Overcoming obstacles of this magnitude takes an enormous amount of resiliency. Education provides the will-power to build it up. In a world where 123 million 15- to 24-year-olds cannot read, the need for literacy has never been more apparent.

The End of a Cycle: Literacy Fights Poverty

According to the United Nation’s Global Education Monitoring Report, new evidence suggests that increasing the years of schooling among adults by two years would help lift nearly 60 million people out of poverty. If ending poverty is the ultimate goal, it may well be that literacy is a starting point. Literacy allows other development goals to happen.

Literacy creates opportunities for people to develop skills to provide for themselves and their family, while at the same time positively impacting each generation through raised expectations and increased self-esteem. Literacy fights poverty much like the feet of a duck fight against the water beneath it. Though it may not always be seen, much work lies below the surface.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr