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Making Malawi literate

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 12:47

File 40515The author (Centre) at the commemoration in Mzimba

By Thandizo Kamowa

The Commemoration of the 2018 International Literacy Day was marked with the usual pomp and drive. In Malawi, the day was commemorated on 8th September in Mzimba, under the theme: “Kudziwa Kulemba, Kuwelenga ndi Kuwelengera.”  The localised theme was simply an off-shoot of the international theme: Literacy and Skills Development which was designed to highlight the close link between literacy and skills development initiative.

Minister of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development, Honourable Grace Chiumia, MP, graced the function, underlying the importance with which the Government attaches to the day.   Of course, one cannot afford to trivialise literacy.

Research and experience has shown that literacy is a major tool for eradicating poverty, creating employment and opportunities, advancing gender equality, improving family health, environment protection and promoting democratic participation.  It further goes without saying that a literate household is a fertile ground for child development and effective education.

The same could be said of adult literacy.  It lays the foundation for improving the lives of people living in poverty by enhancing their ability to comprehend issues on enhancing livelihoods, fostering the ability to actively participate in development, and contributing to overall growth of the Gross Development Product, health and general well-being.

Little wonder, Honourable Chiumia underscored government’s commitment to putting in place mechanisms to address the issue of high illiteracy rates in Malawi. She pointed out that Government is dedicated to the promotion of adult literacy through various education projects and programmes that are being supported by Government and various Non-Governmental Organizations in the country. The minister linked literacy to promotion of entrepreneurship and skills development to fight high unemployment prevalent among the youth in Malawi.

But, as the function ended and the sun descended behind the bare hills of Mzimba, I for one, was fear-struck that the day could simply fizzle out of appeal, like other commemorations before.

Literacy statics in country can’t be grimmer. According to the 2017 Integrated Household Survey (IHS4), it is estimated that the national illiteracy rate is at 73 percent with men at 81 percent and women at 66 percent. This should nudge government and every stakeholder involved from slumber and start chatting ways to improving literacy levels of the citizens, especially women in the country.

In Malawi, women are still staggering under the yoke of un-paid care work, especially in agriculture sector. This, therefore, calls for the need for government to invest in women and young women with more literacy skills so that they are able to play a key role in the formulation and implementation of agriculture polices.

However, for that to happen, government, through the responsible ministries and key stakeholders need to tame challenges facing adult literacy in the country.  Few months ago, Honourable Chiumia outlined several challenges, including that of the growth of the population of illiterate adults due to school dropouts in the formal education system, which she said, exerts pressure on the adult literacy programme.

The Minister said inadequate post-literacy services make those who were declared literate to relapse into illiteracy.  She also pointed at the issue of inadequate resources given to the adult literacy programme as another challenge.

She is right. The minister’s lamentations should be cause for cause for concern for various stakeholders, including government working in adult literacy.

But the buck still stops at government. Government needs to increase resource allocation to adult literacy. Moreover, government and stakeholders need to ensure that adult literacy instructors are we incentivized and motivated.  Otherwise, an illiterate nation is a dead nation.

The author is a ‘Safe Schools’ Project Officer at ActionAid Malawi