Literacy is a critical piece of individual progress, social development, and economic health. Having the ability to read and write provides more educational and employment opportunities to the population, allowing people to increase their household incomes and bring their family out of low-income conditions. This skill has also been tied to improved public health conditions and increased political participation. This article takes a closer look at the most literate countries in Africa.
The Most Literate Countries Of Africa
Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea, and South Africa all hold the first place as the most literate countries in Africa. These nations have a 95% literacy rate in the population of over 15 years of age.
Of the countries in the 95th percentile, Seychelles is the only one to have achieved the 6 goals set forth by the UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Education for All program. These goals, which were to be met by 2015, include: establish free primary education, improve the quality of education, improve childhood education, improve adult literacy by 50%, provide gender equality in the classroom, and address the educational needs of youth and adults. The government of Seychelles first began promoting adult literacy during the 1980’s, which is also when free public education became available. All of these efforts in the educational sector have worked to make Seychelles one of the most literate countries in Africa.
1. Equatorial Guinea
The literacy rate in Equatorial Guinea is around 95% for both males and females over 15 years of age. The literacy rate is actually higher, 98%, when only individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 are considered. This country has also recently made significant progress toward the Education for All goals, achieving a preschool enrollment of over 70% in 2015. This continued commitment to improved education is expected to be reflected in future literacy rates.
1. South Africa
Despite the 95% literacy rate in this country, some researchers report that literacy in younger individuals is on the decline. Recent surveys have found that 29% of 4th-grade students are illiterate, while another 48% do not have reading comprehension skills. Part of this problem, researchers suggest, is due to the multilingualism in this country. For example, approximately 70% of students in 1st through 3rd grade receive classes in an African language. When they reach 4th grade, however, lessons are given in English. Because these children have not yet accomplished reading comprehension in African languages and they are not yet fluent in English, literacy is much more difficult for them to achieve. If this illiteracy problem persists, South Africa could find itself with a lower literacy rate in the future.
2. Sao Tome and Principe
Sao Tome and Principe has the second highest literacy rate in Africa. In this country, 92% of all individuals over the age of 15 are able to comprehend what they read and write. This percentage reflects a significant increase over the 2008 literacy rate, which was recorded at 69.5%. In 1981, the adult residents of this country reported only a 57.3% literacy rate. In the past, Sao Tome and Principe has had significant issues with its educational system, including low enrollment levels and graduation rates, an insufficient number of classrooms, and inadequately trained teachers. In recent years, the government has increased educational expenditures and made primary education mandatory, which has had a clear effect on the adult literacy rate reported today.
Libya, Namibia, and Mauritius each hold the position as the third most literate countries in Africa with a 91% literacy rate.
The 91% literacy rate in Libya reflects a significant increase over the previously reported number. For example, in 1921, while this country was still under Italian colonial forces, only 2% of the adult population was able to read and write. By the mid-20th century, however, the government was making attempts to improve the education system here and after the al-Fateh revolution in 1969, adult education was made a top priority. This country now works to eliminate illiteracy through several prevention methods, like making school mandatory for youth, and several reactive methods, like opening adult literacy centers in each of the districts.
The current 91% literacy rate in Namibia reflects significant improvement over previous years. For example, this number was at only 89.4% in 2011 and 76.5% in 2007. This improvement is due, in large part, to the success of the National Literacy Program, which is administered by the Ministry of Education. Additionally, the government of Namibia has increased its educational expenditures and as of 2013, allocates 29% of the federal budget to public education.
Like the previously mentioned countries, Mauritius has also experienced an improvement in its literacy rates, which currently is at 91%. In 1990, literacy here was reported at only 79.9%. In 2000, it was around 84.3%, which at the time, was the highest rate in Africa. It has since dropped to third place, but only due to the large advances made in other African countries.
Cabo Verde and Botswana are tied as the fourth most literate countries in Africa. Each nation reports a literacy rate of 88%.
4. Cabo Verde
Currently, Cabo Verde is considered the 4th most literate country in Africa (along with Botswana) with an 88% literacy rate. This percentage marks an important improvement in the literacy of this country. For example, in 1990, it was only 62.8%. This increase in literacy is due to the educational system that was put into place after this country gained its independence in 1975.
Just 30 years ago, the literacy rate in Botswana was under 70%. Today, this country is the 4th most literate in Africa with 88% of the population over 15 years of age able to read. This reflects the commitment to education made by the government of Botswana and the success of its National Literacy Programme. This program was established in 1977 and has made significant progress in reaching the adult illiterate population.
Swaziland and Zimbabwe are both tied as the 5th most literate countries in Africa with a literacy rate of 87%.
One of the biggest improvements in the adult literacy rate since the 1970’s has been achieved by Swaziland. In 1977, this country reported that only 55.3% of its adult population was able to read and write. Today, that percentage has increased to 87%.
Zimbabwe, like other countries previously mentioned, has also reported progressively increasing literacy rates. In 1982, only 77.8% of the adult population in this country was considered literate. With an 87% literacy rate today, Zimbabwe has achieved an average annual literacy growth of 3.79%.