How to improve literacy in Africa



literacy africa 1

As a World Literacy Foundation Ambassador, I’ve learned how high illiteracy is in Africa. Although some progress has been made, there’s much more we can do to improve literacy in Africa. We need to find innovative solutions to this problem so it can lead to personal, social, and economic growth.





The problem

According to recent findings by UNESCO, one-third of sub-Saharan Africans over 15 years old are unable to read and write and nearly two-thirds of these are women. There are many reasons for this, but unaffordable, inaccessible education is perhaps the biggest issue.



Ways to improve literacy in Africa


Teach in the mother tongue

Most lessons in Africa are taught in English or other non-local languages. This is hard for students who often struggle with second language comprehension. What’s more, even teachers face challenges instructing in a language they’re not fully proficient with. If classes were held in the native language instead, the quality of learning would improve because there’d be fewer fluency barriers and lesson communication could be enhanced.

literacy africa 2Embed literacy into community development projects

Embedding and mixing literacy into community development projects could result in faster and deeper understanding for the whole community. Such programs would help learners become literate and give them vital skills so they can engage and contribute to their communities.




Technology to improve literacy 

African schools must harness new technology. Distance learning, in which lessons are live-streamed over the internet, can help improve the quality of education because face to face teaching standards vary widely in Africa. Using affordable tablets and mobile devices, gives students access to much more information and educational resources. The World Literacy Foundation’s Sun Books initiative is helping do just that. African classrooms where there’s no internet are provided digital tablets with a host of learning resources to help improve children’s literacy.

literacy africa 3Adult learning

Adult literacy programs are also important. Improving education in adolescence creates more adulthood opportunities down the track. Low-cost programs that increase empowerment and civic participation are proving beneficial. Literate parents, especially mothers, are more likely to send their children to school and are more engaged in their children’s education.


Instill a love of books and reading

There’s a huge connection between a love of books and reading. Encouraging this at an early age unlocks lifelong learning and development. Literacy expert, Carol Anne St. George once said ‘Literacy is the ability to read, write, spell, listen, and speak.’ These foundational skills set people up for success in every area of life. It’s therefore crucial to ensure African children have access to books.


Even though there are still many challenges to improve literacy in Africa, the way out is not impossible. Strategies to increase awareness, enhance education, and involve communities in the learning process will go a long way to bring about change.

Written by: Lidiya Zelke  (WLF Ambassador and digital book illustrator)