Illiteracy in South Africa

I was listening to SAFM on the way home today and a discussion about literacy levels in South Africa at present. To date there are over 4 million people who are completely illiterate and a further 4 million who are semi-literate but to the point that the written word has no benefit to their quality of life. That leaves us with just under 9 million  people who technically qualify as illiterate in this country. Now surely that has to impact upon ministry? What do you think?

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3 Responses to “Illiteracy in South Africa”

  1. September 8, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    The reality is that in South Africa we have tons of people, who can read but who never read, do not come from a culture of reading and have no desire to interact with written material. For all intents and purposes are functionally illiterate.

    But strangely enough I have learned much from the Tabloid newspapers on the Cape Flats on this issue. These newspapers have a huge circulation among people who previously would hardly ever read a newspaper – of course the value of what they read can certainly be debated. But what is their secret. I would put forward three ideas:

    (1) Simple – the language and concepts are easy to understand and do not make people feel spoken down to or stupid.

    (2) Contextual – the reason for the success of the tabloids are that they are writing the stories of the communities that no other high brow newspaper covers. And they use the idiom, language and humour of those communities, rather than correct grammar or even quality journalism.

    (3) Stories – they tell “human interest” stories about people that very often could be them or their neighbour. They tell stories that connect and relate to the life, fears, dreams, concerns and joys of those communities.

  2. 2 Ali
    September 10, 2008 at 5:38 am

    It’s interesting to learn about the illiteracy rate in South Africa. I’m American and obtained a Journalism degree from an American university where we were taught to write for the 6th to 8th grade level (ages 12 -14). That is supposedly the average reading level of mainstream America. Whether that’s true or not, I do not know (you can find arguments for and against on the Web; and periodicals like the New York Times is targeted to people at a higher reading level). The fact is, that is what we were taught. I think what John said is true–when you write at a lower level with easy to understand language, concepts, mainstream humor (for lack of a better phrase), and use human interest stories, more people are inclined to read it. Not only is it easy (and fun) to understand, but it’s a story they can connect with. And, apparently gossip is gold in any culture.

    Regarding an impact on ministry–Paul shows us that making the message relevant to the culture is important. I think this also translates into which method is used to deliver the message (verbal vs. written, etc.). However, the bottom line is that God will reveal himself to whom he wants to reveal himself–no matter what.

    Enjoying the …daylight.

  3. 3 Rose
    May 11, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Hi! I know I’m responding to a blog about three years old, but it came up when I googled illiteracy in SA, as I was trying to compare it with illiteracy in UK. We don’t usually think of the British people being illiterate – English is their language after all! But if you google illiteracy in the UK, you will find many articles, newspaper articles, stats and stories about illiterate, English-first-language, from all ‘classes’ of society, people! It’s really scary! I was born in UK but moved to SA as a child and have recently moved to the UK again, and it is so very, very frustrating that the school children in the UK are never ‘failed’, they are not kept down a year for under-performing; they just carry on going which is where this comment from The Guardian (I think) just a year ago, comes from: “One fifth of school-leavers so illiterate and innumerate they struggle to cope with challenges of everyday life.” (Yes, the word was missing from the original article!!)

    The move in UK churches seems to be away from the NIV Bible, to the New King James or the English Standard Version, both of which need far more explanation to the ‘ordinary man in the street’ than the language of the people in the NIV! There may be a few inaccuracies in translation of the NIV, but those so-called inaccuracies make little or no difference to one’s salvation! How then, are we supposed to encourage new Christians to read their Bibles when they have such a low literacy level?!

    It’s very sad, and I hope as Christians, we can continue to share the Gospel in a way that is understandable and relevant to the 21st century person.

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