Stamping out illiteracy key for individual and national development

 4.5 million Kenyans aged 14 years and above have never attended a learning institution. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

September 8's celebrations to mark International Literacy Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable progress our country has made towards stamping out illiteracy, one of the key challenges that our post-independence Kenya sought to end.

The Ministry of Education, together with all stakeholders, has made commendable gains since the 1966 declaration in Tehran, Iran, at individual, community and national level.

High literacy skills have enabled individuals to contribute significantly to community and national development.

It also enables citizens to maintain better health through their ability to understand and interpret health information. It is crucial in ensuring emotional, moral, cognitive and social development of an individual.

As we observe this day, illiteracy remains prevalent despite efforts made in enhancing access to education.

The World Bank Report (2022) says the sub-Saharan Africa literacy rates for 2020 stood at 65.86 per cent, a rise from 65.47 per cent in 2019.

The 2019 Census shows that 4.5 million Kenyans aged 14 years and above have never attended a learning institution.

Worldwide, there were 771 million illiterate people by 2020, two-thirds of them women and nearly one in five aged 15 to 24.

Today’s national celebrations take place in Mandera, one of the regions with low literacy levels in the country. Current data show that North Eastern has the highest illiterate people at one million compared to Nairobi with 100,103. Garissa County had the highest illiteracy, with 368,408 people who can’t read and write, Wajir has 332,273 and Mandera 314,153. 

This year’s theme, ‘Transforming literacy learning spaces’, emphasises the need to embrace multiple types of literacy learning spaces such as home, community, workplace, digital, and hybrid. It calls for a holistic approach by involving key stakeholders and meeting the learning needs of different people and contexts.

This was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some countries with technologically advanced learning spaces ensured the continuation of learning, whereas those with poor infrastructure were left behind. An equitable, inclusive and intergenerational approach to address learners’ social and emotional needs is, therefore, crucial.

Transforming learning spaces also includes embracing and enabling marginalised groups.

The Basic Literacy Programme offered by the Ministry of Education aims at equipping illiterate adults and out-of-school youth with numeracy, reading, writing and communication skills. The programme gives citizens a second chance to enable them to become more productive.

The government also emphasises post-literacy programmes targeting neo-literates to help them retain, improve and apply the acquired skills for improved quality of life. It prevents relapse into illiteracy.

Also offered is the Continuing Education Programme for out-of-school youth and adults who already have attained some education and competencies.

Under the Community Education and Empowerment Programme, the literate and illiterate can improve their knowledge, vocational and technical skills at various community resource centres.

The government is determined to enhance enrollment in literacy programmes to ensure all its citizens can effectively participate in socio-economic and cultural development that is devoid of inequalities and discrimination.