For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning.
Literacy is a cause for celebration since there are now close to four billion literate people in the world. However, literacy for all – children, youth and adults - is still an unaccomplished goal and an ever moving target.
According to data released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, literacy rates for adults and youth continue to rise. Young women aged 15-24 are making the strongest gains, but still lag behind young men. In 2011, 87% of female youth had basic literacy skills, compared to 92% of males. Overall, more than half of countries with data have youth literacy rates of 95% or higher.
Despite these gains, 774 million adults (15 years and older) still cannot read or write – two-thirds of them (493 million) are women. Among youth, 123 million are illiterate of which 76 million are female. Even though the size of the global illiterate population is shrinking, the female proportion has remained virtually steady at 63% to 64%.
A combination of ambitious goals, insufficient and parallel efforts, inadequate resources and strategies, and continued underestimation of the magnitude and complexity of the task accounts for this unmet goal. Lessons learnt over recent decades show that meeting the goal of universal literacy calls not only for more effective efforts but also for renewed political will and for doing things differently at all levels - locally, nationally and internationally.
In South Africa, the government has launched the Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign in February 2008, with the intention of enabling 4,7 million adults above the age of 15 years to become literate and numerate in one of the eleven official languages. Achieving this goal will enable South Africa to reach its UN: Education For All commitment made at Dakar in 2000 - that of halving the country’s illiteracy rates by 2015.
Initiated and managed by the Department of Education, Kha Ri Gude delivers across all nine provinces in a massive logistical outreach. The campaign enables adult learners to read, write and calculate in their mother tongue in line with the Unit Standards for ABET level 1, and also to learn spoken English.