For The People

Essay: Illiteracy; A Social Problem in Society

By Nonkululeko Nxumalo

The Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary (2015) defines illiterate in two ways; “not knowing how to read or write” and “not knowing very much about a particular subject area” e.g. culturally or musically illiterate. In this case, I will be focusing on the first definition. Additionally, I will be expressing my views on what lies at the root of illiteracy, discuss what illiteracy causes and finally, we will look at solutions and how it can be prevented.

Illiteracy as a social problem

Illiteracy is a social problem that affects both the illiterate individual as well as society as a whole. An illiterate person has a greater chance of being unemployed or having a lower quality job, which in turn, results in a lower income and that places them in a risky financial position. People who are illiterate have a limited ability to obtain and understand important information such as, emergency warnings, medication dosages or workplace instructions. For society, illiteracy increases the country’s unemployment rate and lowers community involvement and participation in social and political issues.

Factors that cause illiteracy

There are numerous factors that cause illiteracy namely, learning disabilities, dropping out of school, difficult living conditions, etc. In my opinion, an illiterate parent is most likely to transfer it inter-generationally as there is little to no value given to education within the family. There is often a lack of books in the household to stimulate reading. Additionally, despite aims by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to decrease the global illiteracy rate, International Literacy Day 2019 was met with 774 million adults (15 years and older) still illiterate – 493 million of those people are female. For over 40 years now, the female proportion has remained steady at 63 – 64%, even with the global illiteracy rate declining.

The social and economic impact of illiteracy

With that said, illiteracy causes unemployment, low community involvement and low self-esteem. Unemployment leads to poverty and poverty gives rise to criminal activity, child labour, prostitution, poor health, homelessness and many other struggles. An illiterate person may have a low self-esteem, and feel shame which can lead to feeling inferior and self-isolation. People who cannot read are not able to read the Constitution, therefore, they struggle to know their rights. They have trouble voting, applying for a driver’s licence and applying for housing. This overall affects the well-being of our country.

How can society solve the problem?

Illiteracy is not something that cannot be defeated. With the participation of individuals, the community, businesses and the government, illiteracy can be eradicated. Parents can create a learning environment and encourage children to read. For adult literacy, the South African Government has instituted the Kha Ri Gude (Let Us Learn) Adult Literacy Programme (KGALP) which adheres to the Constitution of South Africa, which states that basic education, including adult basic education is a constitutional right. Also, teaching people in their mother tongue can help reduce illiteracy. For others, the English language may be difficult to learn, therefore, the mother tongue could make learning easier and encourage reading. Schools should create a strong support to children that struggle with literacy and prevent them from becoming illiterate adults. There should be out-reaches into disadvantaged communities and identifying high risk households can easily and effectively connect them to literacy services.

In conclusion, illiteracy is not a disability, it can be undone. If we can tackle illiteracy from the root, we might be able to remedy the situation. The South African government already has campaigns and measures in place to combat this social problem.

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