Culture undermining adult literacy among pastoral communities – study

Monday, September 27th, 2021 00:00 |
Muslim School in Garissa. Photo/Courtesy

Traditional beliefs and cultures remain the biggest drawback to improving literacy levels among pastoral communities where a huge chunk of the population cannot read and write.

For instance, some men in the Maasai community view adult education programmes as the preserve of women.

Education officials lament that the elderly believe that it is taboo to sit in the same room or interact freely in public with women.

According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census report, in Kajiado County, there are 111,547 people who went to school, but did not complete their studies.

Another 182,329 persons have never stepped into a classroom to learn, which translates to 30 per cent illiteracy rate.

According to Kajiado county Director of Adult Education, Salome Terah, a huge shortage of trained teachers and inadequate capacity of quality assurance officers is also to blame.

Terah observes that some men believe that they are not supposed to mix freely with women in public  and, therefore, cannot share a classroom or accept to be taught by women, sabotaging literacy efforts.

Other challenges in the efforts to boost literacy levels in pastoral communities, include inadequate personnel, poor infrastructure, insufficient funding, poor learning environments and lack of updated learning and teaching materials.

According to  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 73 million youth and adults worldwide do not have basic literacy skills, two-thirds of them are women.

Lack of basic literacy deprives such people access to decent jobs, further learning, relevant information for their everyday life, and full participation in their communities.

“Illiteracy denies young people a chance to get a share of the national cake. Many dreams are killed for those who fail to complete their schooling,” observed Bryton Lemaiyan, a security guard who feels chances in life were diminished due to failure to complete school.  

Cultural beliefs and practices, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages also contribute to the high levels of illiteracy among the pastoral communities.

“The Covid-19 pandemic clearly showed that literacy saves lives. Only if people can read and write will they be able to access lifesaving information and be empowered to act responsibly during emergencies, such as the one the pandemic has brought about,” observed David Atchoarena, Director Unesco Institute of Lifelong Learning in a recent event to mark the International Literacy Day 2021.

Data from Unesco indicates that Kenya’s adult literacy rate grew by 2.8 per cent from 2014 to 2018 to reach 81.54 per cent. This compares badly to the 2007 to 2014 period where literacy levels increased by 6.58 per cent.

Overall, however, regional disparity is skewed against the marginalised pastoralist communities.

For instance, data shows that countrywide, 91 per cent of young women aged  between 15 and 24 are literate, with 29 per cent of the counties having over 90 percent literacy levels.

But regional disparity becomes apparent, especially in arid and semi-arid regions.

Less than half of young women aged 15-24 are literate in Turkana at 41 per cent, Garissa at 43 per cent, Wajir at 47 per cent and Mandera at 49 per cent.

On the other hand, literacy among men aged 15 to 49 nationally is higher than in women at 97 per cent.

But among the men in marginal areas, literacy level remains lowest in Marsabit at 70 per cent and Turkana at 70 per cent.

A study conducted by the World Literacy Foundation shows that illiteracy cost the global economy approximately USD800 billion (Sh 122 trillion) due to costs associated with welfare, unemployment and social programmes, as well as reduced government tax revenue and productivity. 

When a high proportion of the adult population has poor literacy skills, many positions remain vacant as insufficient individuals are adequately skilled to fulfill those roles. This results in slower Gross Domestic Product growth in the long term.

Further researchers note, as the global economy moves more towards a knowledge economy, literacy is an essential skill for individuals and states to compete in the global economy.

On the social front, researchers found that individuals with low levels of literacy are more likely to experience poorer employment opportunities and outcomes and lower income.

 As a result, they often face welfare dependency, low self-esteem, and higher levels of crime.

Moreover, people with a low level of literacy have limited ability to make important informed decisions in everyday life as they struggle with tasks, such as filling out forms and applications, understanding government policies, reading medicine or nutritional labels.

“At least USD17 billion (Sh1.87 trillion) is needed worldwide to boost universal literacy efforts.

There is also a need for proper coordination, planning and monitoring of relevant ministries and departments to make literacy programmes effective,” observed Atchoarena.

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