Facilitating Better Communication Through Literacy
The challenges of illiteracy are often overlooked or not well understood by the general public. For a country such as Afghanistan, the problem of illiteracy poses a significant challenge as only 26.2% of the adult population aged 15 and above are literate (National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, 2009).Individuals with limited literacy skills face significant challenges including limited employment opportunities, communicating his/her ideas and the ability to fully participate in the political, social and cultural activities in their communities. Even shopping, completing government documents, reading the newspaper, street signs, etc., which are everyday activities, can be difficult for an illiterate individual.
In Afghanistan, literacy challenges are even more acute when taking gender into consideration. Only 12% of the female population is literate(National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, 2009). In rural areas, the figures are bleaker, where only 1 in 15 women can read and write. Improving literacy amongst the general population of Afghanistan is one clear way where development programmes can have a direct and positive impact on the daily lives of people—especially for women.
To address these literacy challenges, UNESCO has instituted the Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) programme in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan, funded by the Government of Japan, to provide quality literacy education to 600,000 beneficiaries (of which, 60% are women)<a name="_GoBack"></a>, in 18 provinces of Afghanistan by 2013. The following is a story from an ELA literacy class beneficiary, Afsana, aged 45, who lives in a village in Nimroz province in southeast Afghanistan showcasing the importance of literacy for better communication:
“Here I can share a real problem that was caused by illiteracy: once my son had gone to market and was late coming home. I was very nervous and worried about the delay. It was already 11:00 pm but my son had not returned. I had a mobile phone but did not know how to use it or dial the correct numbers. Since I was alone with my son in the house and there was no one to call him, therefore, I knocked at the neighbouring house to ask them to call my son. Since that woman also could not read the numbers, I returned feeling helpless and stayed at home waiting for my son impatiently. When my son returned, I blamed him and expressed my anxiety. He wondered why I did not just call him and what the mobile was for? In reply, I told him that I tried but could not because I did not understand the numbers. Since then the neighbour and I both realized that literacy is quite vital for solving even simple problems and that we both should learn to read. When we heard that there would be a class, we keenly attended and now, praise to Allah, we have learned to read and write and feel good. Now we can solve our problems and have improved our skills and knowledge. We can read the news and letters and can have a plan for our life.”
As shown through Afsana’s story, literacy is extremely important in communication, and through UNESCO’s ELA programme, literacy has aided her in better communication. It is UNESCO’s hope that with such programmes that literacy can aid in the challenges in communication as well as further support Afghanistan in addressing its challenges in all sectors.
For more information regarding the Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan programme, please contact Yukiko Matsuyoshi, Chief Education Unit: firstname.lastname@example.org