As the world marks International Literacy Day (ILD) today, a Unesco initiative which was first celebrated on September 8 in 1966, we need to take stock of our situation in Tanzania.
Unesco’s focus during ILD is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. On ILD, the UN agency reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning across the world.
At the global level one in five adults is not literate, 60.7 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. According to the 2015 Unesco estimates, Tanzania’s literacy rate stands at 70.6 per cent of the population aged 15 and above. In Kenya, the rate is 87.4 per cent, Burundi (85), Uganda (78.4), Rwanda (71.1). These figures are a wake-up call to us, for they mean we are trailing behind all our partners in the East African Community.
Lest we forget, from the late 1960s to the 1970s, Tanzania was reputedly one of the most literate nations in Africa, with literacy standing at over 80 per cent.
Under our adult education programmeKisomo cha NgumbaruMwalimu Julius Nyerere personally called on every Tanzanian who could read and write to teach at least one compatriot who couldn’t. Every available venue, including bars, was often used as a classroom for adult learners before the 5pm opening hour!
Our fear today is that even the 29.4 per cent of Tanzanians who are reportedly illiterate could be conservative, given that the figure is drawn from the assumption that every child who finishes Standard 7 is literate. The disturbing fact, however, is that among our people, there are Form 4 leavers who can hardly read or write!
Ensuring universal literacy should go beyond enrolling every child aged 7 and above we need to push for quality teaching and learning processes at every level. Adult education classes should also be revived.