On September 8, Malawi joined the world in commemorating World Literacy Day under the theme â€˜Literacy and Peaceâ€™. Although literacy levels have improved in recent years, at 62 percent, Malawi has one of the lowest literacy levels in the world. Why is literacy important, and is there a link between literacy and peace? Samuel Chibaya talks to USAid mission director Doug Arbuckle on this topic.
This yearâ€™s International Literacy Day theme was â€˜literacy and peaceâ€™. What do you make of this theme?
Education is foundational to social, economic and political development. Research has demonstrated that education raises individual incomes, improves food security and in an enabling environment, can contribute significantly to economic growth. Education helps ensure that economic and social development is broad-based and reaches the poorest segments of the population. Through its impact on economic growth, education helps catalyse transitions to democracy and helps preserve robust democratic governance. Education also helps improve health outcomes, particularly female education has been proven to be one of most significant factors for reducing fertility rates, taking up family planning methods, reducing infant and child morbidity and mortality, and reducing childhood malnutrition.
Access to education is a crucial precondition to education impact, but access alone is not sufficient to make development gains.Â
Is there any relationship between literacy and peace?
Literacy is not just about reading books, it is a powerful tool that can eradicate poverty and forms the foundation for a proactive and strong civil society and accountable government. The focus of literacy lies in acquiring basic education for all, eradicating poverty, reducing infant mortality, simmering down population growth, reaching gender equality and ensuring constant development, peace and democracy. These are just some of the reasons literacy is at the centre of the Education for All (EFA) goals. A good quality basic education that equips learners with literacy skills, equips that learner with the potential for life-long learning.
Do you think when literacy levels improve, peace will also prevail?
Literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict. The connection between literacy and peace can be seen by the fact that in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment. Helping a child learn to read creates the foundation for lifelong learning. An investment in a childâ€™s ability to read is a direct investment in a countryâ€™s future economic and social development. Reading is an instrument that empowers individuals, families, communities, and society to improved health, income, and increases oneâ€™s connection to the world. USAid is working in close partnership with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) to strengthen systems for the training and support of teachers to deliver improved reading instruction and to improve childrenâ€™s reading abilities.
When literacy is considered as the ability to read, write and think critically, then it means getting a literate nation is a process. Is Malawi making positive strides in being a literate nation?
Malawi is a land of promise, however, for the country to achieve that promise, her children must be educated and be able to read. USAid has worked closely with the Ministry of Education to assess the reading ability of primary school pupils over the last two years. National Learning Assessments have repeatedly indicated that the majority of children in Malawiâ€™s primary schools are not learning to read even after four years of schooling. The focus on basic education and the recent reforms in the primary education curriculum focusing on literacy is a step in the right direction. However, what we have learned is that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to get all of Malawiâ€™s children reading. USAid is committed to working with the Government of Malawi in this process.
Do you think literacy can also be a security issue?
Providing education in general can lead to a better life. In situations where there is no formal education, and lack of gainful employment, unemployed youths often become a target for criminals and gang-related activities. When individuals are illiterate, they are cut off from accessing information about their rights, the laws that govern society, and are dependent on othersâ€™ interpretation of these laws and rights. Without literacy, individuals are excluded from formal economic opportunities creating a burgeoning disenfranchised segment of the population. The larger this segment of the population becomes the greater likelihood for instability and insecurity within a country.
What are some of the impediments to Malawiâ€™s efforts to achieve desirable literacy levels?
The major educational reform in Malawi in recent decades was the introduction of free primary education in 1994, which resulted in a massive increase in enrolments. The resulting explosion in enrolment put severe strain on the entire education system, resulting in inadequate supply of infrastructure, teachers and teaching and learning materials. The bottom line: although, Malawi has made significant gains in providing education for all, if trajectories continue unchanged, the next generation will have a greater schooled population but an even higher adult illiteracy rate. The overall low quality of instruction and teacherâ€™s professional development contribute toward low achievement levels among pupils. Teachers have been poorly equipped to deal with the numerous challenges that they face in resource poor overcrowded classrooms. To compound this situation, there is also a huge number of adults who are illiterate and there are insufficient programmes and resources to support this segment of the population.