Literacy in Africa

Posted on February 11, 2017 12:01 am

Recently I spent time reading research about Africa’s literacy in both traditional and digital levels. While African countries are working toward improving literacy, both the ability to read, write and do simple arithmetic as well as focusing on digital literacy.It is interesting to read because the African educational system are different, in terms of size and homogeneity.In fact, there is no common educational system in the whole of Africa as each country implements its own, which means there are 54 different educational systems.I would imagine that if every country in Africa was committed to the improvement of education, the continent’s educational system would collectively get better, but this will not work. The reality is some African countries like South Africa, Botswana have managed to transform their poor education systems thanks to their economies.Literacy important to Africa because knowledge has always been associated with influence, power and economic success. And literacy has always been the essential vehicle for the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge and literacy has created power in Africa. Advantages, both financial and otherwise, are afforded to those who can read and thus acquire, organise and use knowledge.In the knowledge based economy, the educated and literate human resources who possess critical thinking and are creative and innovative could help African economies reach the same level of respect as other developed and civilised nations in the globe.However, far too many African children are not learning to read in the early years of school and the longer they are at school, the larger the gap between the highest and lowest performing children becomes.There are clearly huge gaps in literacy and numeracy attainment among children. It is good to have measures that help African countries to better understand the extent of under performance and only one way to do that is through better teaching.What many stakeholders do not say is that the reason so many children are failing to learn to read is that they are not getting the best reading instruction in the early years of school.The research i read has provided overwhelming evidence that some teaching methods are more effective that others.The most effective method for teaching new complex skills and imparting knowledge is explicit instruction.For children, reading is new and complex.They need to be shown in a methodical and systematic way how to handle synthetic phonics and then be given plenty of supported practice to become fluent and proficient readers. This code based instruction must be embedded in a literacy program that also develops vocabulary and comprehension. All African children should benefit from this type of evidence based teaching, but it is absolutely essential for children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have learning difficulties.

Reading chapter after the other, its clear demonstration of the power of explicit teaching doesn’t just come from peer reviewed journals and expert reviews. It also comes from African schools that have adopted these methods and shown that they lead to dramatic improvements in literacy levels.The study also found that university students in teacher education degrees have low personal literacy skills and insufficient knowledge of the english language to teach it explicitly to children. Not only this, they are often unaware of the paucity of their knowledge. They do not know what they do not know.Many teacher education degrees do not equip new teachers with evidence based teaching strategies. Like in Tanzania and Kenya, they have discover them by chance. As a result of widespread deficiencies in teacher knowledge, many schools in Kenya and Tanzania believe they are using the most effective methods when in fact they are not.In additions, schools are using government developed reading programs and policies that do not reflect the evidence on effective teaching of reading. There is a chasm between research and practice, a persistent problem in education that various initiatives being implemented aims to resolve. Whether or not a child learns to read should not be a matter of chance. Low literacy cannot be tolerated or excused any longer.African countries are still struggling to address the challenges in equality, accessibility and quality facing their educational system.Providing accessibility to education and accelerating digital literacy should go hand in hand.Technology has enabled education and enriched the alternatives to the way Africans learn. My view is that the most important literacy in the knowledge based economy is how to find, select and use knowledge productively. The main purpose of education needs to shift from passing the standardised test to developing learners’ potential, teach them how to learn sustainably and to unleash their fullest strengths.With digital literacy like Rwanda and Kenya are doing, more people will be participating in the current knowledge based economy. African governments, academics and businesses need to work together so that they can narrow the gap between the economy and education. The research shows that students who have more effective teachers will learn much more compared to those who have less effective teachers. African educators should be the facilitators of leveraging new technology and digital literacy to students. In so doing, African teachers and students can grow together.

Contador Harrison