Asante Africa Celebrates International Literacy Day

Sep 5, 2023

Because you are reading this you are literate, so much so that you probably don’t give your ability to read a second’s thought. Like many in the world, about 86%, you have been nurtured since a very young age by a school system with teachers and resources that early on familiarized you with your A, B,Cs and from there on to words, sentences, paragraphs, and beyond. By the age of 6 or 7, you were well on your way to a life of reading: A life of scrutinizing printed instructions, comparing product benefits, following road signs to Point B, signing forms with understanding, and interpreting all manner of things to inform and entertain you. But it wasn’t just letters, you learned numbers, your 1,2,3s along with those A,B,Cs. With those numbers you have been able add, subtract, multiply, and divide, whether you’re shopping for bargains at the store, adjusting recipes at home, counting down pushups from twenty-five to zero or the reverse, steering clear of speeding tickets, stepping on a scale: the ways in which we use our basic numeracy are innumerable.

Imagine trying to function in your home without having basic literacy or numeracy. Imagine trying to function as an individual in your community without having basic literacy or numeracy. Imagine your community trying to sustain itself as a community without having a shared literacy and numeracy. Mission impossible?

An 86 percent literacy rate worldwide is a pretty high rate, but if you are among the 14 percent on the outside the number is meaningless. On the outside are approximately one in seven youths and adults 15 and older, and 244 million youths 6-18 not enrolled in school. (1) 

What is International Literacy Day?

This September 8 is International Literacy Day (ILD), the annual day since 1967 when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to raise awareness around the world of those millions who lack basic literacy and numeracy by celebrating the literacy and numeracy of those, like you and me, who have it. In 1967, world literacy was around 60%, so at 86% today, the efforts of UNESCO, world governments, school systems, NGOs, charitable foundations, etc., have clearly paid off. But there is still work to be done. With commitment, 100% global literacy is attainable.

Increasing Peace and Prosperity with SDGs

To that end and others, in 2015, on the seventieth anniversary of its founding, member nations of the UN set out on an ambitious project: Agenda 2030. At the time of its adoption UN signatories committed to increasing peace and prosperity for all the world’s citizens, and ensuring that this generation will bequeath to future generations vibrant and just countries and a healthy and bountiful planet. The UN identified seventeen areas, what they term “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs), for which individual nations, depending upon their areas of greatest need and ability, set benchmarks they are honor-bound to achieve by 2030. Some SDGs are primary: (1) Ending poverty, (2) ending hunger. Others depend on more scaffolding: (16) building institutions based on peace and justice, (17) strengthening global partnerships. Among the seventeen SDGs, number four is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” It is within number four that topping out world literacy finds its calling. Even though UNESCO’s first ILD anticipated this SDG by nearly fifty years, it is with the backing of the 2015 commitment to Agenda 2030 that literacy and numeracy may soon be enjoyed by all people of the planet. 

The 2023 ILD calls for a reinvigorated global commitment to increase the literacy haves and decrease the literacy have-nots. Because, more than just providing for the rudimentary functioning of day- to-day living, the UN sees literacy and numeracy as foundational to human dignity, and to human cooperation and progress in a fast-changing world. Indeed, this year’s ILD theme is “Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies”.

Asante Africa Unlocks the World of Learning and Earning for Students

Asante Africa stands behind the notion that literacy is fundamental to human dignity and sustainable communities and societies, as that has been the backbone of our work throughout our East African partner countries. By means of our educational support of East African youth, we have pushed hard to keep boys and girls in school where they can receive an education to unlock for them the world of letters and numbers; of learning and earning. Asante Africa’s hands-on efforts in the countries we serve has helped raise literacy significantly over many of their African neighbors. Indeed, according to UNESCO, the 2021 literacy rates of Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya were 79%, 82%, and 83%, rates that soar above some neighbor countries whose literacy rates don’t even reach 35%, but which fall far short of the dozens and dozens of countries worldwide whose literacy rates are in the high nineties, and even 100%. Asante Africa is committed to raising our partner-country rates. 

But formidable obstacles can gum up our progress. Our most basic and obvious obstacle is that in order to benefit from school our students must be able to attend school. Only by attending school can a young person be advantaged by whatever promise the classroom holds. So, on the one hand English literacy is the key, as schools at the primary level are taught in Swahili, while schools at the secondary level are taught in English. Therefore, when students are unable to abruptly transition from one language of instruction to another, regrettably they are forced to drop out of school. Bright as they may be, eager as they may be, if unable to learn English, and then to learn in English, these students are quite literally turned away at the schoolroom door. Further, those who lack the required fees, or required uniform, or because of family misperceptions of education, and are thereby prevented from attending school, they, too, have grim prospects for ever escaping the binds of illiteracy. 

Bridging the Gap

Asante Africa’s “Bridge The Gap” program was conceived to confront all of those obstacles directly, and it does. Over many weeks of intensive study it helps young learners transition from primary to secondary schools, by: 

    • a) enrolling them in accelerated coursework that bridges their rudimentary primary education in all subjects with the more advanced secondary curriculum, though most importantly by immersing them in a fast-track English curriculum that readies them for the English language classroom

    • b), by providing students the material means to make that transition to secondary school, be they school fees, uniforms, books and other learning materials – or even simple products for good hygiene. In short, Asante Africa’s “Bridge The Gap” program does what it can to keep promising, industrious students in the classroom, to keep them learning.

Madiru, Tanzania

Two Asante Africa students who have successfully crossed that bridge are Madiru and Marry. 

Madiru entered secondary school in January, 2022, but before he did he transitioned through the “Bridge The Gap” program, about which he reflected:

“I feel like the luckiest person to be a part of this program because I have learned new skills like how to use a computer and new experiences like being in a laboratory. Most of all, I have all the supplies to help me to join secondary school: school uniforms, shoes, books, and stationery. (3)


Marry, Tanzania

Marry’s story is a bit more fraught. Marry had been a hardworking girl and a good student, but when her father became ill and she was placed in the care of her uncle, he determined that Marry’s marriageability was of greater financial worth than her schooling, keeping her from continuing her education. However, two of Marry’s instructors, who saw great promise in her, arranged for her father and uncle to visit the school and made the case as to why Marry should remain a student. After listening to the teachers and hearing his own daughter’s plea to continue learning, Marry’s father agreed to have her remain in school. With that decision, Marry was able to attend a “Bridge The Gap” program where she learned English, Math, and Science, allowing for her successful entry into secondary school. 

After all I went through, I can’t believe that I am finally in a boarding secondary school. The “Bridge the Gap” course helped me to learn different things like the subjects we will be taught in form 1, but at the same time it was a safe place for me during the three months that I was staying at home, waiting to go to secondary school, and at risk of being married off. Also, with Asante Africa’s support, I received uniforms, books, and other things that my father could not buy due to his health condition. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to go to school.” (4)

Madiru and Marry’s stories don’t speak to literacy directly, but instead show that literacy, like all learning, depends upon access to the places of learning – the schools and classrooms that can often be off-limits when other material necessities go unmet. One can’t learn their A,B,Cs or their 1,2,3s if they don’t have access to the places of their teaching. “Bridge The Gap” is just one of Asante Africa’s programs that makes that access possible. 

So, on this International Literacy Day 2023, Asante Africa hopes you will join us in celebrating the efforts to move the global needle toward 100% literacy. 

WRITTEN BY: Jerry Blitefield

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To learn more about UNESCO’s efforts to eradicate illiteracy, or about this year’s International Literacy Day, go here:
To learn more about the UN’s Agenda 2030, go here:
If you would like to read Madiru’s full story, go here:
If you would like to read Marry’s full story, go here:
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