For the first time the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries have got together to address one of the most urgent social issues in developing Africa - the immediate need for basic literacy for adults. There are over 28 million illiterate adults in SADC countries. National governments and NGOs are struggling to bring literacy education opportunities to all their people.
Representatives from adult literacy organisations from Southern Africa participated in an exciting information exchange from 7-8 September 2010 in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. September 8th was also International Literacy Day.
This conference has been a breakthrough in communications between neighbouring countries and it would appear that it should be an annual event from here on. This is the first time that adult literacy practitioners from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa have worked together to share their experiences of adult literacy delivery practices and the challenges to implementing effective and successful adult literacy programmes. The keynote address was presented by Dr. Lynn Curtis, Vice President of International Programmes at ProLiteracy Worldwide.
The ‘Adult Literacy Information Exchange’ is part of the International Reading Association/Rotary International Partnership. The partners include Rotary Districts 7950 (Massachusetts/Rhode Island, USA) and 9270 (South Africa), Operation Upgrade (an adult literacy NGO in South Africa), Massachusetts University Reading Educators and Massachusetts Reading Association.
One of the primary objectives of the Adult Literacy Information Exchange was to celebrate International Literacy Day. Another major aim was to discuss successes and challenges in implementing adult literacy programmes. Each presenter gave an overview of the adult literacy organisation and then engaged with the other participants in lively and productive discussions about the key issues in organising and carrying out their programmes.
Some of the major challenges facing the organisations are sustainable funding; the development of suitable literacy teaching techniques and materials; the preparation and retention of qualified literacy educators; and maintaining the ‘political will’ to support adult literacy and skills training.
A particularly difficult challenge is to improve the understanding of and support for programmes for out-of-school youth, who are not eligible to be in school, but who do not have enough education to hold jobs. And several country representatives expressed their intention to introduce small business and food security into their literacy programmes.
- Pat Dean is director at Operation Upgrade of South Africa.