The 8th of September every year sees the celebration of literacy in all its forms through the UNESCO International Literacy Day. Since its inauguration in 1967, the day has been an opportunity to remind people around the world of “the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society”. 

In the intervening years, steady progress has been made. However, we are still far from the end goal, and the recent Covid-19 crisis has created further setbacks and additional complications to be overcome. In the light of this, it is now more important than ever to look to the future and the potential of a world in which literacy is viewed as a right, not a privilege.

Sustainable Development Goals

The role of education is vital to the success of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goal 4 was created with a specific focus on the importance of quality education in the achievement of Education for Sustainable Development:

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.”

The creation of the goal highlighted the fact that, without intervention, by 2030 a staggering 300 million students around the globe would lack basic numeracy and literacy skills. It is widely recognised that such skills are basic requirements if an individual is to improve their circumstances. There is a symbiotic relationship between literacy and the other areas highlighted by the Sustainable Development Goals – development cannot progress without literacy skills, and this in turn leads to the improvement of such skills. It is not difficult to see, therefore, that the role of literacy is essential to the goal of building the foundations for sustainable and peaceful societies.

The Tanzanian Context

Following the country’s newfound independence in 1961, education – in particular, literacy – became a top priority for its new leader, Julius Nyerere. Within three decades, illiteracy had fallen from an estimated 70% to 14.5% of the population. This was such a positive outcome, the country was recognised by UNCESCO for its success. 

Since then, however, this significant progress has begun to falter. Levels of illiteracy have begun to creep back up again, now standing at 22.4% - around 5.5 million – falling far short of Sustainable Development Goal 4.6 which sets the target of 100% literacy among youths and adults by 2030. A combination of resource scarcity, poorly trained teachers and overcrowded classrooms have been blamed, and a high dropout rate is further evidence of these problems.

The Future

Within the context of rural Tanzania, particularly in Mtwara where EdUKaid operates, a flexible and adaptable approach towards the provision of education is vital. There are many hurdles to be overcome; from the difficulties presented by families living in grinding poverty to entrenched attitudes towards gender roles, there is no quick fix. Complicated problems require creative solutions, something we at EdUKaid are constantly mindful of. By working hard to engage and involve local communities in their children’s education, we hope to ensure that progress is not only positive, but that it is sustainable in the long term.

There’s still a long way to go to reach the goal of 100% literacy in Tanzania, but we’re taking great strides in the right direction. With the will, expertise and finances necessary to ensure success, each day we are building the foundations for a sustainable and peaceful society.