September 8, is the annual event set for marking the International Literacy Day. This year, Tanzania is supposed to join forces with Unesco and the rest of the world in giving priority to literacy as a leading contributor to national development.
Indeed, the theme this year is: “Literacy and Sustainable Development”, reflecting the important role literacy plays in society. Where do we stand on this? Does the Government give commensurate importance to the role of literacy in bringing about sustainable development?
Our performance, like that of most of the international community, presents a lopsided picture; but it is even more dismal in developing countries where the literacy situation remains challenging. Let us think for a moment. If the commonplace observation: “ABC ... It’s easy as 123”; were true, then “why can’t one in five people read or write?”
This refers to the prevailing global situation in which, according to Unesco, 776 million adults worldwide can’t write their own name, read a line from a book or count. This also points to the principle of right to education, which continues to be especially wanting in the developing countries.
There is an inexorable link between poverty and literacy, which Unesco has from its founding in 1946 tried to grapple with, inviting governments and all the relevant stakeholders to engage in efforts to enable people to read and write.
Indeed, educationists and philosopher leaders including Mwalimu Julius Nyerere have always reminded us about the importance of literacy or education in creating new avenues for people-based development. We owe it to Mwalimu Nyerere for his vision reflected in the policy of education for self-reliance.
Tanzania was for a long period the envy of the world in literacy and numeracy rates. Young and old embraced the literacy campaign, reaching out to the rest of the country, where masses of people turned up for literacy classes that were taught by volunteers, drawn from primary, secondary and university, at no pay. This spirit has since dimmed or is absent, altogether.
Unesco has also bemoaned such retrogressive developments, saying despite clear evidence of the power of literacy to transform individual lives and patterns of social development, in many parts of the world there is neither the political will nor the resources to make youth and adult literacy an area of priority action. As a result, those whose lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills is not being addressed - almost one in six adults - is literally denied their rights, needs and hopes that come with literacy. Unesco wants this blatant injustice stopped forthwith. The Education ministry ought to do more in the area of literacy, taking advantage of the newly launched Global Partnership for Education Literacy and Numeracy programme down to regional and district levels.
The Sweden-funded programme, also aims to improve basic literacy and numeracy skills among children between five and 13 years. Our pupils are reportedly not learning core skills expected at their age and grade level. On this Literacy Day, Tanzania must show the way in giving priority to literacy at all levels.