• 250m School Age Kids Unable to Read

    At least 250 million of the world's 650 million primary school age children are unable to read, write or do basic mathematics.

    According to a report commissioned by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 130 million children are in primary school but have not achieved the minimum benchmarks for learning, and almost 120 million have spent little or no time in a classroom including 57 million youngsters who are not attending school.

    The independent research team that wrote the report for UNESCO, calculated that the cost of 250 million children around the world not learning translates to a loss for governments of around US$129 billion annually.

    To read the article titled, “250 million school age kids can't read: UN education agency,” click here.

    Times Live
  • South Africa’s Real Level of Literacy

    According to the 2012 General Household Survey (GHS) conducted by Statistics South Africa, the adult literacy rate is qualified as the self-reported ability to read and write short sentences.

    However, researchers and independent analysts warn that these general statistics can lull one into a false sense of security regarding the real levels of literacy in South Africa.

    Surette van Staden, a co-national research coordinator for the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2011, says it is dangerous to use such a loose categorisation for literacy. ”The ability to read and write short sentences is perhaps an indication of functionality, if anything,” says van Staden.

    To read the article titled, “SA’s real level of literacy,” click here.

    The Citizen
  • UNESCO: No Education for Marginalised Groups

    The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says that some marginalised communities, including the San people of Southern Africa, still do not have access to formal education.

    The agency argues this lack of education makes it difficult for them to contribute to the economic development of their communities, countries and the region.

    It also states that most of the world’s 370 million marginalised indigenous people - representing approximately five percent of global population – do not have access to education.

    To read the article titled, “San remain marginalised in SADC,” click here.

    Southern Times Africa
  • SA Leads Neighbours on Absentee Teachers

    University of Stellenbosch researcher, Nick Spaull, says teacher absenteeism in South Africa is twice as high as that of Namibia and Botswana, and three times higher than Mozambique’s.

    In a policy brief this week, Spaull, points out that this chronic absenteeism is partly to blame for South African children’s poor performance in subjects such as mathematics and literacy compared to their mostly poorer neighbours.

    He based his conclusions on an analysis of data collected in a large comparative study – which tested and monitored Grade 6 performance in maths and literacy - in the region by the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality.

    To read the article titled, “SA outdoes poor neighbours on absentee teachers,” click here.

    Business Day
  • 4.7 Million Adults Illiterate in South Africa

    Official figures show that about 4.7 million adults in South Africa are illiterate and about 4.9 million adults are functional illiterate who left school before Grade 7.

    In light of this, the Department of Arts and Culture is in partnership with a number of stakeholders to encourage a culture of reading, as part of National Book Week.

    The department's director-general, Xaba Sibusiso, points out that the purpose of the National Book Week is to encourage the culture of reading and writing in the country – given the low literate rates in certain parts of the communities.

    To read the article titled, “4.7 million adults illiterate in SA,” click here.

    SABC News
  • Initiative to Help Slash Illiteracy

    The Stellenbosch University has announced a new initiative to help slash illiteracy rates in South Africa.

    The organisation ‘Words Open Worlds’ or ‘WOW’, which has been distributing books in rural and disadvantaged communities, has reached around 30 000 people since the beginning of 2011.

    WOW’s Fiona Van Kerwel says too many South Africans are simply not able to lay their hands on books.

    “The main problem is South Africa I would say is the accessibility of people to resources,” Van Kerwel.

    To read the article titled, “New initiative to slash illiteracy,” click here.

    Eye Witness News
  • The Potential of Mobile Apps

    ‘I think it will be a while yet before a significant proportion of phones will be able to accept the widespread use of apps. But apps are certainly reaching rural communities already.’

    Are many people in ACP countries using mobile apps yet?

    I can only really address the situation in Southern and East Africa where we do most of our work. Aside from the fairly small urban elite who use smart - and higher-end feature phones, there are only a few applications that people use widely, usually those that come pre-installed on the phone. There are a few cases where the desire for the app is so significant that people go to the trouble of sharing it via Bluetooth, for example. But there is very limited access to online app stores, like those we associate with smartphones such as the iPhone, that are in significant use in developing countries.

    So it is very difficult to get apps onto phones. For any of our projects where we think an app might be appropriate, we've realised that we need access to the phone itself – either pre-installing on phones that we distribute, or having face-to-face contact to install the app onto people’s existing phones. Obviously, neither method works well for a large-scale project. We also then face the problem of adapting an app to many different handsets, which only very few app developers have managed to solve.

    Many apps are text-based and based on European languages. Can that present problems to users in ACP countries?

    The phones themselves operate in a language that is foreign to many people, and many common features require some literacy, but that doesn’t seem to be a barrier to people using them. There have even been a number of development projects using SMS in several languages, including vernacular languages, but people often respond better to the messages sent in English. It might be that people have accepted that the language of text messaging is a highly adapted form of English or French or whatever. I don’t think that, when we’re talking about apps, literacy and language even come into the top five problems. Only when apps – or some variant of apps as we understand them – have a much wider distribution, are we likely to start seeing this as a major problem.

    What are the main problems with apps?

    Apart from distribution and appropriate handset availability issues already mentioned, I'd say that affordability and access to data services are probably the biggest problems. If you have an app on your phone that regularly needs to draw information from a remote service, the cost of that data transfer is very significant, and is more than most people could afford. And because it is often happening in the background, it is hard for people to control those costs. This has been noted as a key problem for the lower-cost smartphones, like those becoming available in east Africa at the moment. When these phones are switched on they are constantly downloading and uploading information, and that data transfer is very expensive for the user. There are ways round this as network providers make cheaper data transfer options available.

    Another problem is that many cellphone networks are not yet ready for large numbers of people using data services. For some of our training projects, we’ve had to spend the first few hours just training people on how to configure phones to accept data. The situation is improving, more networks are getting better at auto-configuring data services, but it can still be a barrier – preventing people from using apps.

    In your experience, what kinds of apps are most people using?

    Social networking apps, and instant messaging in particular, are proving to be very popular. Some services, such as MXit in South Africa, have managed to solve the problems of distribution and have designed the service for thousands of types of handsets. The major benefit of these services is the low cost. Instant messaging is much cheaper than voice calls or sending an SMS.

    Unconnected apps are also very popular. These are apps that come with the phone and don’t rely on data transfer over the network. Many people use photo, music and calendar applications, for example, and although their use for development is not immediately obvious, these apps have brought the technology to people who never previously had it.

    Are apps just a passing trend until more people have access to the web on cell phones?

    I think it will be a while yet before a significant proportion of phones will be able to accept the widespread use of apps. But apps are certainly reaching rural communities already. Many functions previously delivered by village telecentres can now be done on a cellphone. With fewer setup and running costs. A phone requires a lot less electricity, for example. The phone, therefore, can be used to extend the reach of basic information communication technology (ICT) services.

    Those services could also be delivered, at some point in the future, via the mobile web rather than an app. The problem is that there are still rural communities without any coverage at all, so the mobile web would be of no use to anyone living in those areas – there is no ability to use those services directly off a phone.

    On-phone apps can retain functionality that does not require a constant network connection. For example, we use the Open Data Kit for monitoring and evaluation surveys and that works very well offline. You can gather 50 or 100 surveys, then go to a main road where there is network coverage and upload the data with no loss of information.

    I think though, by the time the mobile web surpasses phone-specific apps, it will be difficult to distinguish between the two. At least some functions of a mobile web becoming available directly from the handset. Hopefully, this will allow offline functionality while not requiring a full app installation.

    This article was first published in ICT Update, December 2010, Issue 57.

    - Matthew de Gale is programme manager, Mobiles4Agriculture Services, at SANGONeT

    Matthew de Gale
    Matthew de Gale
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