Literacy And National Growth
The post-apartheid period in South Africa was followed with reforms aiming at making the educational system more consistent with that of a modern democracy. Access to education became a right pertaining to all South Africans and compulsory to citizens between the ages of 7 and15. Effects of educational reforms are reflected in a steady increase in the literacy rate among South Africans aged 15 years or more which increased from around 74% in 1980 to 86% in 1996, while today around 89% of the population are considered literate. South Africa is committed to a progressive realization of making education accessible to all. Yet, despite being one of the most advanced economies in the region, South Africa´s literacy rate lags behind that of many of its neighbours and the fact that the country has one of the highest investments in the educational sector in the world have in several aspects not yielded expected results.
Illiteracy is a societal disease whose effects can damage families, communities, social dynamics and nations. Add health effects where people are unable to read instructions at medicines or to access information about AIDS or other infectious diseases. Illiteracy does in effect mean to give up or being forced to give up basic civil rights and therefore affects the outcome of elections, public policies and socio-economic development. It keeps people marginalized whether or not they realize it themselves. In the long run, illiterate parts of the population means the economy of the country will develop at slower rate, with accompanying socio-economic problems. This is the harsh realty South African authorities are facing on daily basis.
Poverty and corruption are generally pointed out as some of the lead barriers to literacy and access to education. Parts of this can probably still be ascribed past apartheid policies that entrenched inequalities and poverty along racial lines. This also affected the educational sphere. No one denies the fact that large inequalities still exist in South Africa, but while there are many critical voices of the current regime we should also not forget to appreciate the positive changes and progress that after all has been made during the post-apartheid period. Importantly, past inequalities are no longer accepted and right to education is no longer a question of race. It is however in part a question of accessibility. In many areas, formal educational policies lack implementation which often is ascribed corrupted practise and inefficiency in allocation of educational funds.
South Africa has worked hard to fight the negative societal impact of its past, and has in many ways succeeded turning recession to one of economic growth. Being able to read and write and access to education for all has and will continue to positively affect the lives of citizens of South Africa, and in the long run, these are among the most powerful means for continued positive socio-economic development. As citizens we should hold our elected government accountable to continue eradicating poverty and illiteracy. Illiteracy prevents citizens from becoming fully productive and active participants of the society and a fully literate nation should be the modern South African state we aspire towards becoming.