Adult literacy programmes in Malawi started during British colonial rule in the 1940s.
After independence, adult literacy committees were formed across the country and primers were developed.
The National Adult Functional Literacy Programme was later launched to deal with illiteracy countrywide.
Ironically, close to 35 in 100 Malawians aged at least 15 cannot read and write. This is according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Institute for Statistics.
A lot of work has to be done to improve literacy for national development.
Adult literacy encourages adults to learn to read, write and do some simple calculations.
Literate people understand important messages and key development ideas. They easily understand messages about their environment, health, politics and other vital areas.
For example, it is easier to inculcate the spirit of good hygiene and sanitation to the literate.
Cholera, malaria and other communicable diseases can easily be avoided if people are able to read and understand presentation messages of such diseases.
Improved literacy results in improved health decisions which in turn may lead to reduced healthcare costs for the nation.
Literacy can also help reduce poverty among adults.
Most people deeply affected by poverty are illiterate and low literacy keeps them outside the labour market. They often lack high-earning skills.
Attending adult literacy classes may equip adults with knowledge and skills of finance and entrepreneurship which can enable them venture into income generating activities.
Through such activities, they may earn money and improve their livelihood and economic status.
Additionally, acquiring skills in literacy can increase participation in public life and development activities.
It promotes participation in public projects in their communities.
In politics, the literate is more likely to vote and express tolerant views than the illiterate.
Parents who are literate can understand and appreciate the value of education.
As such they send their children to school and monitor their children’s academic progress.
They are also aware that education increases their children’s chances in life, including the propensity to become responsible citizens and contribute to the development of not only their communities but the nation at large.
The country needs to invest more in adult literacy.
Let us make the illiterate adults feel the need to enrol in literacy programmes. There is need for collaborative efforts to eradicate illiteracy in Malawi.
The government, civil society organisations, religious institutions and development partners should intensify the support towards this programme.
It is vital to publicise the programme to the rural masses. Civic educate the illiterate adults on the importance of attending literacy classes.
Local leaders should also be encouraged to rally citizens to enrol in the programme.
The stakeholders should also ensure that high quality learning environment for adult learners is provided to motivate adults to enrol and attend classes.
Most importantly, curriculum content needs to suit the brains and lives of adult learners. The content must be interesting and worth investing their time in. They must see the usefulness of the adult literacy subjects.
Adult literacy instructors also need motivation. They hold a key to the success of the literacy programme.
Honoraria, which is an incentive to them, must be paid in time if the programme is to benefit from their services.
Also, consideration should be made to have permanent instructors on government payroll, not volunteers. This will help to retain the instructors in the system.
The need to improve adult literacy requires the attention and efforts of all of us.