According to a 2016 report released by StatsSA, close on 2.5 million South Africans are illiterate: unable to read or write. If that sounds a little alarming, perhaps this statistic will soften the blow: only 7% of South Africans are considered truly illiterate. Now that doesn’t sound too bad…?
But, when you move away from the numbers, it’s clear that literacy is nowhere near as high as the percentages say they are. It is something we need to be very concerned about in South Africa. Why the discrepancy then?
- Firstly, the General Household Survey (GHS) that gives us these statistics considers any person older than 15 years with minimum a grade 7 or a higher education qualification as literate. The survey relies on honest self-reporting. However, it is likely that many people may not be honest to protect their self-worth.
- Secondly, true literacy is not merely the ability to decipher symbols, write one’s name, and read and write short sentences. To add value to a person’s life, literacy skills also need to include the ability to understand, interpret and find meaning in words and language. And this is where we are falling short.
- Thirdly, for every stage of life, a specific level of reading or reading adequacy is required. The more complicated or difficult the task at hand, the higher level of literacy skill is required. Often this is not realized or taken into account when talking about literacy in general.
Given all of this, the fact that you can read the words in this article and find meaning in them puts you in the minority rather than the majority. That you have these literacy skills is, sadly, a privilege rather than the basic right it should be. Literacy undoubtedly gives people the edge when it comes to succeeding in life and being able to find and pursue opportunities. So, it follows then, that by improving literacy skills we can improve the lives of South Africans for the better:
- Reduction in poverty
People with higher literacy have more opportunities to pursue higher education and develop their skills and knowledge to seek better employment and earn higher salaries.
- Community upliftment
Communities that have higher literacy rates place more importance on education and self-improvement, and create an atmosphere where self-worth is important and success is a possible goal and not merely a pipe dream.
- Better health
Being literate helps people understand health concerns and better educate themselves when it comes to healthcare. People who are literate and have access to education are more likely to understand the health risks associated with HIV. Higher literacy rates also lower the risk of infant mortality due to misinformation or lack of information.
- Empowering women
In many traditional communities, women are still marginalised as second rate citizens. Literacy skills give all people, but especially women, the opportunity to educate themselves and break free from destructive social dynamics to become economically independent.
- Economic growth
The economy is directly linked to the spending power of the people. Because literacy improves the skills of the workforce and reduces poverty, the economy is then able to grow and thrive. This creates a cycle where literacy continues to improve and have a positive effect on economic growth. This fact is quantified by research performed by the University of Stellenbosch on the cost of illiteracy in South Africa.
How can you help?
By partnering with Stimulus Maksima!, either to sponsor our literacy skills programme in a needy school or to introduce the programme to your adult employees as part of their ongoing training, you can engage your company in a corporate social responsibility programme that delivers real, measurable and sustainable results. Our computer-aided learning systems focus on developing core mathematics and reading skills. These are essential tools for facing the challenges of learning in higher grades, as well as day to day life.
To find out more about our programme and how to become a Stimulus Maksima! corporate social investment partner, do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.