Today is International Literacy Day.  The English word ‘literacy’ has a simple definition – the ability to read and write. Literacy in Africa is essential to development and prosperity.  Reading and writing is crucial in functioning and navigating in the world in all stages of life. The ability to read and write is a human right. Yet 38 percent of people in Africa are illiterate. Two thirds of them are women.


Literacy in Africa

The African continent has the lowest literacy rate in compared to the rest of the world.


The literacy gap in Africa thus results from inequality‚ but also exacerbates it. Although literacy rates are improving around the continent, it is happening too slow and unevenly.

Rural vs urban

The rural population in Africa has been left behind in many ways. Especially in education.



Men vs women

Two thirds of African people who are illiterate are women. Women who cannot read or write are significantly more disadvantaged economically and socially, with unequal access to and engagement with education, jobs, and healthcare. Literacy for women is crucial not only for herself but, also for those around her. The literacy of women impacts future generations. Literate women are more likely to send their children, especially their girls, to school. Literacy in women also leads to better child and maternal health.



Why literacy in Africa is low?

Inadequate school libraries

Often libraries are simple, at best, or inadequate. Further these libraries lack suitable books in their own mother tongues.


No reading culture and bad teaching

Africa is the only continent where more than half of parents are not able to help their children with homework due to illiteracy. Most parents don’t read to their children, mainly because they themselves are not literate. This problem is compounded by the lack of affordable books written in their African home language. One must remember that English is a minority home language on the continent. Within the middle class, parents are not reading to their children as reading is treated as a lower-order activity.


Low quality of training for teachers of reading

The teaching training curriculum is often outdated. Further most teachers avoid foundation level teach (where reading and writing is taught) because of poor salaries.


High cost of books

According to the World Bank 43 percent of Africa are poor (2012). Simply put, most parents cannot afford to buy books for their children. Buying books is not essential but luxury item.



Ways to improve literacy in Africa
  • Power up the public-private partnership with the promotion of new methods and successful private initiatives.
  • Increase funding to foundation classes and libraries.
  • Add more training courses: this will give learners more options on how to contribute to society.
  • Improve the living and working conditions of literacy staff: this will encourage them to be more involved at work. It also prevents brain drain.
  • Politically committed governments and better governance of literacy led by African Heads of State: this could increase funding for literacy programs.
  • Gender mainstreaming and positive discrimination strategies in support of women and other specific underprivileged groups, especially in rural areas, in the different literacy programs.

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