Why teach literacy?

A farmer in Asia tries a new planting technique, following the instructions on a government leaflet, and his harvest doubles.

• Tharaka children in rural Kenya, who are taught in their mother tongue from grades 1 to 3, have a substantial head-start when they are faced with learning the national language in the higher grades. Their solid grasp of the subjects, and their confidence in school, are obvious.

• Family ties are kept intact, as letters from a husband working in the faraway capital city are read and treasured by his wife and children at home.

• A tailor in a small Asian village desperately needed the skill of numeracy, in order to maintain and expand her clientele. After her first week of classes, she mastered not only the numbers 1 to 100, but also the beginnings of the alphabet. Soon she announced proudly, “I can read and write now!” This transformed not only her business, but her self esteem.

• In northern Cameroon, a village grandmother outshines the rest of the women in her literacy class with her skill of reading aloud. “Now I can help my grandchildren with their schoolwork!” She also understands the instructions on her malaria medicine.

• The motivation for many of the Tennet women of Sudan is clear. “We want to learn to read our language so that we can read the Bible for ourselves, period!”

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) defines literacy as: “The ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.”