21 April 2019


United Nations approves of SA's adult literacy campaign


Khuitsemang Diseko


23 September 2016

South Africa's efforts at reducing illiteracy among adults have been recognized by the United Nations.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) scooped the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) International Literacy Award. The Kha Ri Gude mass literacy campaign, launched in 2008, won the 2016 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.

The award was presented to the department at a ceremony held in the French capital, Paris.

UNESCO presented the award on the 50th Anniversary of International Literacy Day on September 8. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said: "This has been an incredible day celebrating one of the most important achievements of UNESCO - to put literacy on the global agenda.

"Each one of today's prize-winners is a story of humanism that has helped people discover their dignity and made inclusion a reality. The biggest lesson is that illiteracy is not inevitable. We can drive change through concerted efforts, political will, dedication, innovation and sharing best practices. Literacy can achieve the overarching goal of the 2030 agenda - to leave no one behind"

DBE spokesperson, Troy Martens, said the UNESCO Jury appreciated the Kha Ri Gude programme for its well-developed mass literacy campaign that applied scientific research on how illiterate adults learn.

"The panel found it impressive that since its inception in 2008, the programme had taught urban and rural based adults in 11 official languages - including Braille and sign language. Furthermore, it has a quality assurance component that is implemented by the South African Qualifications Authority. Learners who went through the campaign are registered on a National Learner Record Database by SAQA," she said.

The Kha ri Gude (Tshivenda for 'let us learn') programme teaches adults who missed out on schooling, and who cannot read or write, in literacy classes that are held all over South Africa.

"The campaign was launched to enable 4.7 million adults above the age of 15 years to become literate and numerate in one of the 11 official languages," Martens told Semphete this week.

Government has stressed the importance of reading and writing among South Africans, particularly among the elderly.

"It (Kha Ri Gude) has (had) an impact in the daily lives of the elderly. They can (now) sign their own names, they can read billboards and statements and can withdraw money from the ATM without relying on others for example," Martens said.

By 2015, the programme had reached more than 260 000 people in the Bokone Bophirima province alone. The challenge has however been that most elderly people drop out as soon as they are able to read and write before the end of the programme.

"(Also) there is attrition because we are dealing with the elderly," Martens pointed out.

Ninety-nine-year old Matate Ralekhokho from Limpopo province was the oldest learner to have come out of the Kha Ri Gude programme.

The DBE told Semphete that it felt honoured to have received the award.

"It is an honour to be recognised internationally. We are very proud of the fact that we have been recognised for the work we have done by an organisation like UNESCO. It is definitely a feather in the cap of those who have been working hard to ensure Kha Ri Gude is a success," Martens said.

Since 1967, UNESCO has awarded International Literacy Prizes to outstanding and innovative programmes that promote literacy, and this year UNESCO awarded laureates from around the world under the theme: Innovation in Literacy.