Do reading and writing seem like very simple skills? If you are reading this you have probably answered yes, but 775 million people will disagree with you. These are the people that according to current global statistics lack minimum literacy skills.
September 8 was International Day of Literacy. It is a day that serves to remind the world about the importance of literacy, how it looks like today and how that consequently affects our society.
Today there are 775 million people of adult age in the world who cannot read or write and just one internet search will inform you of the detrimental consequences of this, and most will highlight the negative impact this has on sustainable development.
As of 2010 Malawi’s adult literacy rate was at 61.3 percent and the country has in the past few decades invested in adult literacy in hopes of increasing literacy figures and some progress has been made here and there. The sustainability of this progress is under threat and I will give the reasons later.
First, let me talk about the 2015 international literacy day theme which is ‘Literacy and Sustainable Societies’. The aim of this theme as has been indicated on the United Nationse Education and Science Organisation (Unesco) is to show that ‘literacy is a key driver of sustainable development’. The key word here is ‘key’ just to re-emphasize the point.
To sustain any of the progress we have made in Malawi towards increasing literacy we must look at all angles but we must not neglect the role of nutrition in child literacy.
It is a fact that 47 percent of children in Malawi are stunted due to malnutrition, and only one out of every three children with undernutrition are estimated to be receiving proper health attention.
Stunted children are more likely to drop out of school due to either frequent illness or inability to grasp class content as a result of poor intellectual comprehension which is also linked to malnutrition.
It is, therefore, critical to give more attention to this issue. It is pleasing to note that Malawi is already heading into the right direction on the nutrition agenda. For instance, the scaling up nutrition movement was officially launched in Malawi in 2011 and the theme for the launch called for unity to end stunting.
To promote child literacy in our context, it is unarguable that availability of teaching and learning resources is vital but addressing these alone is insufficient.
To scale up nutrition we must invest more. More efforts and more of our resources, political and financial, must be put to use to ensure that nutrition is recognized as a powerful accelerator of children’s literacy.
Recently, a group of members of Parliament signed pledges to officially declare their commitment towards nutrition in their constituency and also to champion nutrition nationally. This was a move initiated by the Civil Society Organization Nutrition Alliance (CSONA).
The MPs pledged to lobby for increased funding to nutrition to accelerate progress. This is also a step in the right direction.
What remains now is the sustained will and actions of everyone especially those in positions of influence to champion nutrition i.e. the media, health workers, local leaders etc.
At the Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013 Malawi promised to allocate 0.1% of total budget to nutrition. My question to all of us is: are we watching?