Every year on 8th September, Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate International Literacy Day which was declared by UNESCO on 26th, October, 1966. It’s always an opportune time to evaluate the performance of literacy initiatives by stakeholders. It’s a good sign that current research shows that literacy rates of Uganda and the world at large, have been rising over the course of the last two centuries. However, as we celebrate literacy improvements, we need to reflect on the possibility that we have not achieved much and explore ways to bridge some literacy gaps.
Literacy is looked at as the ability to read and write, but it also includes the ability to critique a text. According to UNESCO, Uganda’s adult literacy rate by 2018 was 76.53%; the male at 82.66% and the female was at 70.84%. Compared to other countries, Uganda was number 120 in the ranking of literacy rate.
Uganda has registered substantial effort in streamlining literacy acquisition through the Constitution; Government white paper on education 1995; Education Act 2008; Thematic curriculum which calls for mother tongue as language of instruction; A policy about placing books in the hands of children; Learning and literacy framework; Advisory committee for literacy and numeracy; commitment to a slogan of “Our children our future, our future our children”, written orthographies in local languages for every child to read in their first languages; Early Grade Reading (EGR) methodology, which has made delivery of thematic curriculum simpler and more interesting for children and the celebration of “Drop Everything And Read” (DEAR) Day. However, regardless of all the efforts, literacy targets are still limited by scarcity of books, exclusion, quality issues, lack of parent involvement, sustainability issues, prohibitive budget allocations and implementation challenges.
According to Uwezo Uganda, 8th Learning assessment report of 2019, children are not learning the way they should learn; the percentage of P3-P7 children who could read and comprehend a basic story at P2 level dropped from 39% in 2015 to 33% in 2018. Some Primary seven candidates are still unable to read and understand instructions on an examination paper while some parents do not know the schools of their children. This situation should worry any civil Ugandan.
There is need for equitable Literacy Policy and Practice which should address all dichotomies and ensure equal opportunities of Urban and Rural; Haves and have nots; Girls and Boys; Young and aged; Able and those living with disabilities.
Likewise, we need to respect girls’ education if we are to score high in literacy. This is because girls are still affected by deep rooted patriarchal system seen in unequal sharing of home chores. We should have mentorship and peer support systems in schools to build their self-esteem.
We further need to strengthen the thematic curriculum. As Nelson Mandela notes that “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head, but if you speak to him in his mother tongue, it goes to his heart”; UNESCO confirms that the best medium of instruction should be the local language. It becomes a crisis when the people are unable to communicate in their local language. We haven’t achieved much despite trying to use mother tongue. Attitude is still poor about the use of mother tongue as both parents and teachers punish the leaners for using mother tongue because it isn’t examined for example, in the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE).
There is generally poor usage of bilingual education system; children leave home before reaching adeptness in mother tongue and go to a system that is trying to get rid of mother tongue in favour of another language, making it hard to learn something new.
Uganda is in a dilemma like any other formerly colonized country because of mix-up brought by language heterogeneity. There is a language for the home and a different language for the marketplace, public places, classroom and governance. While Africa has over 2,000 languages, Uganda alone has over 45 languages.
This does not only pose a challenge on literacy but also unity. We need to strengthen decolonizing initiatives in Languages if we are to attain high level of literacy. For example, one of the most successful decolonizing initiatives on the African continent is Afrikaans (in South Africa) which is now a language of science and scholarship, and legal discourse in a short span of half a century.
Post-colonial theory assumes that the only language we should use in school is English. In fact, in thematic curriculum, the Ministry of Education and Sports emphasizes home language as the language of instruction at lower education levels, but the curriculum itself is written in English.
There is need to review language policies to accommodate building of literacy right from home and thematic curriculum be reviewed to include parental involvement. The role of parents in literacy should be as important as that of teachers.
All initiatives should be inclusive of other aspects, for example Sign language is mother tongue for the deaf. If learners are to achieve literacy right from home, parents of deaf children should be helped to handle the duty. It’s cheating ourselves if we continue thinking and believing that literacy is only achieved in school.
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