Every September 8, the world marks the International Literacy Day. The day is marked to give a chance to governments, public institutions, non-governmental organisations and many other stakeholders to focus on literacy growth rates and reflect on the existing challenges and how to tackle them.
This year’s theme was ‘Literacy in the digital world’. The theme takes into consideration the new communication means that people use to interact. People’s needs for access to information are changing rapidly.
Literacy has also been captured in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through the quest for universal access to quality education and learning opportunities. According to the UN, Sustainable Development Goal 4 has as one of its targets ensuring all young people achieve literacy and numeracy and that adults who lack these skills are given the opportunity to acquire them.
In the 1970s, Tanzania was famous for its efforts to try and ensure that those adults who lacked the skills attended special classrooms to gain the skills. However, following economic challenges of the mid-1980s, the trend pointed downwards.
Existing data shows that by 2015, about 80 per cent of adults in the country had acquired the reading, writing and numeracy skills.
While the figure may look reasonable, there are huge challenges to ensure that the remaining 20 per cent of illiterate adults are supported to gain the crucial skills. Experts say that literacy is important for individual and community well-being. Persons with adequate literacy maintain better health through their ability to understand and interpret health information.
The government in collaboration with non-state actors have taken bold initiatives towards ensuring that citizens learn the skills at a younger age. Children’s Book Prject for Tanzania was one such initiative. The organisation, since its establishment in the early 1990s, has been working towards improving the reading culture in Tanzania. Its efforts aim at seeing that books, especially by indigenous writers, are placed in the hands of children. It also works towards improving expert knowledge in the field of book publishing.
Room to Read is another organisation that also aims at ensuring that children have books to read.
These are just a few examples of initiatives that have been going on in Tanzania towards improving literacy rates.
Globally, statistics show that some 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. 60 million children are out of school. This is a big challenge. To tackle it, partnerships must be formed. This should not be left in the hands of only individual countries.
With the rapidly changing means of communication, it is important for publishers to innovate new ways of organising content. The physical book is important, but the e-book must also be user friendly and disseminated widely via modern means of communication.
Resources are crucial to tackling challenges facing growth of literacy across the globe. Both human and financial resources are crucial. Funds must also be injected into research so as to establish innovative ways of preparing content its publication.
The youth are an important group in the entire initiative. They are not only consumers but should be engaged in the development of books. The world is increasingly becoming digital. People need to have the skills to effectively understand what is communicated. So, being literate can help them find new opportunities that can positively change their lives.
It is for this reason that the world must work in partnerships to ensure that literacy levels go up in every country.