“Literacy a component of freedom”

What does literacy mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines literacy as the ability to read and write, but being literate is a lot more than reading and writing. Today, however, being literate is more about making sense of and engaging in advanced reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Therefore, it’s a requirement for someone who has reached advanced literacy in a new language to engage in these four skills with their new language in any setting. 

How did Literacy Day come about?

In 1966, UNESCO proclaimed 8 September as International Literacy Day. It aims to raise awareness of the importance of literacy and look towards possible concerns regarding literacy. Literacy is a crucial part of a healthy and happy society. A person who knows how to read and write can keep up with changing trends, connect with people, can have effective conversations, understand global issues, and much more. 

The 2021 Theme

The theme of International Literacy Day 2021 is ‘Literacy for a human-centred recovery, Narrowing the digital divide.’ In the past two years, the world has been shaken by the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic. The economy, development, and even the learning of children have been severely impacted. The pandemic has also widened the inequality gaps and even disproportionately affected the 773 million non-literate young people and adults. 

Literacy for developing individuals and society

Being literate and educated is essential for an individual and society. Starting with basic literacy is needed to understand things and for effective conversations. While we are moving towards the 21st century, the world still has a big void created by illiteracy. According to reports, around 775 million people lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate, and two-thirds of them are women; 60.7 million children are out-of-school, and many more attend irregularly or drop out. While the countries are excelling in technology, sciences, and arts. Part of the world still lacks basic literacy skills. Therefore awareness and steps to curb the low literacy graph is the need of the hour. 

The Digital Gap

According to UNESCO, this year’s theme aims to take steps to narrow the digital gap and pave the way for literacy through it. “The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Beyond its intrinsic importance as part of the right to education, literacy empowers individuals. It improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value. It is also a driver for sustainable development. Literacy is an integral part of education, and lifelong learning is premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4. Literacy, therefore, is central to a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.”

South Africa and the the Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign

In South Africa, the government launched the Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign in February 2008, intending to enable 4,7 million adults above 15 years to become literate and numerate in one of the eleven official languages. Achieving this goal will allow South Africa to reach its UN: Education For All commitment made at Dakar in 2000 – 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 learn spoken English.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

– Frederick Douglass

Author: Eleanor Samsodien
Co-Chair: The Samsodien Foundation NPC
8 September 2021


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