By Joseph S. Sherman, Washington, DC, USA
The devastating civil war which began in 1991 claimed the lives of thousands of people, destroyed public and private property and disrupted the social welfare system including schools and health centers. The civil war also interrupted the education of many young men and women who did not finish their schooling. Illiteracy has become a huge problem in Sierra Leone. The country will continue to suffer major development and restructuring problems whilst so many children are unable to attend school due to lack of funds.
Sierra Leone illiteracy rate is about 80%, even though the Ministry of Education quite recently claims that it has drop to 66%. Astonishingly, this number still poses a challenge to the socio-economic and political development of a country once known as the Athens of Africa, reflective of the numbers of intelligentsias it has produced in West Africa. Why is the country facing this alarming illiteracy rate? This is mainly due to the education system being deprived of funding over many years with education not being viewed as priority by Sierra Leonean authorities. If post-war Sierra Leone is to reduce the persistent high rate of illiteracy in the country, then a plan of action should be implemented to address this issue. Literacy is fundamental to citizenship in a democracy- to informed decision making, to personal empowerment, and to active and positive participation in the global and local economy.
A large number of men, women and children in Sierra Leone seeking literacy instructions today presented limited reading skills. This is a reflection of a more generalized learning problem. It is also an indicator of the motivational and educational disadvantages experienced by people who have a history of failure and low-socioeconomic status. Evidence suggests that a large number of literacy-disadvantaged people in Sierra Leone have common characteristics, including low income, low social status, learning disabilities and other disadvantages.
The new leadership in post-war Sierra Leone should play a key role in the fight against illiteracy. The Ministry of Education should launch a massive literacy campaign to give new impetus to efforts in eradicating high rates of illiteracy in Sierra Leone. In order to achieve these goals, an Agency for Literacy and Adult education needs to be established. This Agency will be charged with the responsibility of developing curricula to respond to the educational needs of adult illiterates.
Cooperation on the international level with UNESCO and UNICEF for the initiation of literacy classes, training of literacy teachers and support of vocational training programs should be forged. The Agency for Literacy and Adult Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Education will combat sources of illiteracy by enforcing the enrollment of children in the primary age category and by identifying sources of school dropout, particularly among girls.
In order to enhance linkages between literacy programs and vocational training, the Agency for Literacy and Adult Education will be charged with the responsibility of providing vocational training based on individual abilities and interests. Such activities will help illiterates acquire skills for managing small-scale income generating projects which will enhance their living standards.
About the Author: Joseph S. Sherman (MIP, MSA), is the Director of a Multi-Cultural Adult Education Center in Washington, DC, and Features Editor of the Cocorioko online newspaper