Note: This is part of a series of reflective posts that form part of a university course that I am taking. I hope that you will find something valuable in my reflections as well.
There is no question that literacy is key to upward socioeconomic mobility and escaping poverty. According to the UN, "education helps reduce inequalities and reach gender equality and is crucial to fostering tolerance and more peaceful societies." While the global literacy rate for people over 15 is 86%, the literacy rate in Sub-Saharan Africa remains below 60%, with some countries below 30%.1 It is in these countries where access to education is desperately needed.
Libraries play a key role in providing access to education, especially literacy. Public libraries, however, are few and far between in developing countries (the reasons for this are complex - if you want the deep dive, I highly recommend you check out the paper by Young et al. linked below) and have been often overlooked as partners by development organizations.2 As a result, most efforts to improve literacy rates in developing countries tend to be through development organizations acting as libraries rather than state-sponsored public libraries. While this matters philosophically (public libraries uphold the values of political, social and intellectual freedom, while development agencies may not), the end result for users is the same regardless of who is providing the service - access to books and technology.
Here are 3 NGOs working to increase literacy rates in creative ways:
Nal'ibali - based in South Africa, Nal'ibali focuses not just on reading for enjoyment, but on the power of language and cultural relevance. They acknowledge the importance of reading in the mother tongue and work to create a community of stories and storytellers across South Africa. This rich website includes storybooks, audiobooks and writing resources for all ages, not too mention the ability to access physical books, reading and writing clubs and more. Nal'ibali can be enjoyed on all major mobile networks in SA for free and without data (wow!) as well as on What'sApp, making it super accessible for just about anyone (95% of South Africans own a cell phone3).
Room to Read - Room to Read focuses on literacy and gender equality in low-income communities throughout Africa and Asia. They partner with community and government organizations to provide teacher training, quality reading materials in local languages, construction of classrooms and parent education programs. Their intent is to create sustainable literacy initiatives that will last long after Room to Read moves to a different community.
World Literacy Foundation - The WLF supports a number of different literacy initiatives across the globe, including the distribution of solar-powered tablets pre-loaded with books and educational games in Africa, an app in Australia that provides books in both English and local Indigenous languages, an Ambassador program for young adults and the provision of books to schools and community reading groups throughout Africa, South America and Asia.
1. Literacy Rate, 2015. Retrieved 07/29/2021 from www.ourworldindata.org/literacy.
2. Young, J.C., Lynch, R., Boakye-Achampong, S., Jowaisas, C., Sam, J. (2021). Public libraries and development across Sub-Saharan Africa: Overcoming a problem of perception. Retrieved 07/28/2021 from https://www.degruyter.com/docwww.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/libri-2020-0096/htmlument/doi/10.1515/libri-2020-0096/html.
3. McCrocklin, S. (2021). Mobile penetration in South Africa. Retrieved 07/29/2021 from https://www.geopoll.com/blog/mobile-penetration-south-africa/.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!