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Bumpy road for illiterate men, women

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PHIRI— There is insufficient funding for adult education programmes

On paper, the Government of Malawi has been promoting adult literacy classes but, as THOMAS KACHERE writes, it has been neglecting those who want to tap from the well of knowledge by failing to provide enough material and financial resources.

Education plays an important role in every country’s development as it enables people to meaningfully participate in development activities from an informed position. Reading and writing are part of this.

It is, therefore, essential that players in the education sector take adult literacy and education seriously.

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According to the Malawi Housing and Population Census of 2018, up to 4.7 million people are illiterate in Malawi, representing 31.4 percent illiterate rate. Out of this, 1.6 million illiterate people are females, representing 34.1 percent.

Feeling duty-bound to put their destiny in their hands, some people from Chiradzulu District have taken the first step; that of encouraging one another to attend adult literacy classes.

Grace Kenson, 52, is a standard two dropout who has realised the importance of attaining an education at a later stage in her life.

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She has, therefore, swallowed her pride and started attending adult literacy classes in Likalawe Village in the Southern Region district of Chiradzulu.

Kenson explained that she dropped out of school many years ago because her parents could not manage to raise the necessary fees and keep her in school.

And because she could, for the better part of her life, not read and write, Kenson faced challenges a number of times.

“I used to be embarrassed during meetings with members of our women’s group because I could not write my name during registration. I was so illiterate that I could neither read nor write my own name. Instead, I used to use a thumbprint,” she said.

Kenson further said she could sometimes lose her way, especially when travelling to an unfamiliar area because she could not read the destination poster.

“A person who cannot read cannot know where he or she is, more so when they find themselves in a new area. I felt embarrassed whenever I asked people about direction to a given place. I, therefore, wanted to know that ‘this bus is heading to Zomba, Blantyre or Lilongwe’ by reading the poster by myself,” she added.

Kenson said she is one of the women who are encouraging other women to join adult literacy classes.

Mercy David, 27, of the same village, concurred with Kenson.

She said, countless times, she was embarrassed because she could not read or write.

David said it is crucial that people who cannot read or write learn how to do so, especially now that technology has taken root. Otherwise, she said, illiterate people cannot cope with the modern demands of life.

“Organisations come to this village and it becomes too embarrassing to see one’s own friends putting their name down while you can only watch helplessly because of failure to read or write. Learning how to read and write is life transforming,” she said.

David said she is now able to read and write, making it easy for her to go to any part of the country.

Ngawe Kapyepye, an instructor at Likalawe School of Adults, which is located in Malindi Village, Chiradzulu District, said the school lacks, among other things, teaching materials.

This, she said, puts some learners at a disadvantage, resulting in some of them going off track.

Kapyepye said, despite facing a number of challenges, the school has changed the mindset of those that attend classes.

“Some of these people joined the lessons because they were too embarrassed during registration in their various village groups. We have 32 learners and, so far, they are doing well. The main challenge is that oftentimes, governments and organisations do not pay much attention to instructors,” she said.

While commending the people of Malindi Village for their efforts, Catholic University of Malawi Adult Education Coordinator, Merina Phiri, has called on the government and civil society organisations to take the initiative and improve the environment in adult literacy programmes.

She said, that way, citizens will feel encouraged to participate in such activities, thereby reducing levels of illiteracy in the country.

Mankhwala said adult education is helping people live more successfully by increasing their competence through learning of skills and knowledge relevant to their lives.

“People have to be able to read and write for them to better understand and communicate effectively. It is, therefore, encouraging to note that people in Chiradzulu are taking up literacy classes.

“Nonetheless, the general challenge with adult education is that there is insufficient funding for adult education programmes. This is also the case with the Chiradzulu community, which lacks resources like learning materials and allowances for instructors,” she said.

Coordinator for DVV International Dyson Mthawanji said their organisation is closely working with the National Centre for Literacy and Adult Education (Naclae) in the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare.

“Naclae oversees approximately 10,000 literacy centres nationally. About 15 percent of these centres are for English while 85 percent are for Chichewa. DVV International supports these centres through training of literacy instructors, among other interventions,” Mthawanji said.

He said, through their efforts, the government has, through the Ministry of Gender, formulated the National Adult Literacy and Education strategic Plan with the purpose of operationalising the National Adult Literacy and Education Policy (2020).

“The plan is to bring all stakeholders together and harness their efforts. Malawi was operating in the ALE sector without a National Adult Literacy and Education Policy until February 2020, when the Malawi Government approved it. We are now happy that Malawi has this important policy,” he said.

Mthawanji added that the organisation is incorporating lessons on skills to woo more men to join the classes.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals encourage countries to leave no one behind, including in the education sector.

However, if what is happening in Chiradzulu is anything to go by, there is more to be done for Malawi to have all eligible people focus on and participate in adult literacy and education activities.

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