Literacy Is A Human Right

Riyaz Patel

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Literacy should be understood within a rights-based approach and among principles of inclusion for human development.

The rationale for recognising literacy as a right is the set of benefits it confers on individuals, families, communities and nations.

Literacy is implicit in the right to education and is recognised as a right, explicitly for both children and adults, in certain international conventions.

Literacy has been recognised not only as a right in itself but also as a mechanism for the pursuit of other human rights, just as human rights education is a tool for combating illiteracy.

Apart from being a fundamental human right, it’s a foundation not only for achieving education for all but, more broadly, for achieving the overarching goal of reducing human poverty.

And yet, 140 million adults in sub-Saharan Africa lack the basic learning tools to make informed decisions and participate fully in the development of their societies.

In South Africa, lack of access to reading material and textbooks are two of the main reasons that 78% of South African children in grade 3 still can’t read for meaning.

Education expert, Mary Metcalfe says while government continues to spend billions on education, in 2018, only 29% of the poorest primary schools in South Africa had access to in-school libraries.

“Change is possible. We must focus on improving literacy and numeracy levels in the first four years of schooling.”

education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe 

In addition to being a right in itself, literacy allows the pursuit of other human rights. It confers a wide set of benefits and strengthens the capabilities of individuals, families and communities to access health, educational, economic, political and cultural opportunities.

These 17 countries in Africa still have literacy rates of 50 % and below.

Yet, on average, less than sixty per cent of the total adult population in sub-Saharan Africa can read and write with understanding – one of the lowest adult literacy rates in the world.

The rates are below forty per cent (the supposed threshold for rapid economic growth to take place) in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, the Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

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