Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Beyond reading, writing & empowerment: Thoughts for International Literacy Day 2010

Until I started knocking on people’s office doors to ask about what was being done to celebrate this year’s International Literacy Day in Malawi, September 8th, I hadn’t thought of how differently various people might interpret the concept “literacy”. Picking up the phone to tell a director of a ministry department about what I had come for, one secretary didn’t bat an eyelid to add “adult” to the word. It didn’t matter that I repeated the phrase “International Literacy Day” several times. And she was not the only one. Several people heard it as “International Adult Literacy Day”.

Obviously a basic meaning of “literacy” starts out as learning how to read and write, and in Malawian discourse, the type of literacy most commonly heard on the street and across the airwaves is “Adult Literacy”, Sukulu ya Kwacha. No doubt adult literacy is crucial an issue as is emerging literacy, what we teach toddlers in nurseries and Standard 1 classrooms. But literacy is an extremely broad term, and covers probably each and every area that requires specialized knowledge across the breadth of human productivity. Viewing literacy in this manner forces us to consider the importance of learning more complicated knowledge systems beyond the ability to read and write as a child or as an adult literacy learner. It is not enough to know how to read and write; one needs to develop life-long intellectual habits of reading regularly and utilizing modern technologies including computers and the Internet.

A crucial factor in developing and maintaining such intellectual habits is a thriving book industry.  There was a time in Malawi when we had what could be considered a thriving book industry, considering our development stage and years from independence at that time. When I was growing up in the then Municipality of Zomba, I had access to four excellent bookshops, and a well-stocked library, within walking distance. A Malawi Book Service bookstore easily competed with a Times Bookshop a stone-throw away from each other along the M1 road in the centre of town. At Zomba Zero the CCAP Church ran a CLAIM Bookshop not too far from the Times and MBS Bookshops, and straight down the road from Zomba Zero to Chancellor College was the MBS University Bookstore.

It was the same when I travelled to Blantyre, where I was able, in one day, to visit Times Bookshop, Central Bookshop, and a few other bookstores and libraries. Even when I travelled to rural parts of Malawi such as Mulanje, Ntcheu or Kasungu, I was still able to find well-stocked bookshops ran by the MBS, CLAIM, or Times Bookshop. Today, only the CLAIM bookshop and the National Library Branch still stand in Zomba. The Malawi Book Service and the Times Bookshop no longer exist. Central Bookshop had two shops in Blantyre and one in Lilongwe. Today two of those don’t exist anymore. When I visited Maneno Bookshop in Lilongwe in June, I saw more books from other countries, and very few from Malawi. It was the same at the lone Central Bookshop at the Chichiri Mall in Blantyre. At Maneno I saw children’s books from Kenya, and almost none from Malawi. At Central Bookshop I was told that people called to ask about the next issue of People Magazine, while stacks of Malawian magazines lay unsold.

There are reasons of political economy and recent socio-economic changes that explain problems in the book industry in Malawi. This is despite the gallant efforts of the Malawi Writers Union (MAWU) and the Book Publishers Association of Malawi (BPAM) to keep book production in the country afloat. The National Library Service has also grown in strength and outreach, as have several efforts by enterprising Malawians who establish private bookshops and open libraries in schools. The last ten years have seen the introduction of Teacher Development Centres (TDCs) that serve between ten and twenty neighboring schools, and libraries are an unfailing feature of these centres.

The most inspiring Malawian success story on the international science and technology circuit, that of William Kamkwamba, owes its origins to a TDC library. It is a pity that none of the bookstores I have visited in Blantyre, Zomba and Lilongwe recently stock Kamkwamba’s co-authored book (with Bryan Mealer) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Kamkwamba’s story always elicits jaw-dropping silence and attention, whether here in Malawi or in the United States. There his book has become a best seller. I look forward to the day when every young Malawian and school-teacher will read the book and feel inspired by how a quest to enhance one’s literacy and knowledge wowed the world.

Part of Kamkwamba’s story was made possible through the power of the Internet, in particular Malawian and African bloggers. Digital literacy is a must for any society that wishes to enter the 21st century. Digital literacy involves knowledge of how to use computers, which can start with as simple a step as setting up an email account. It is disappointing that very few Malawian teachers have email accounts, let alone access to the Internet. This is understandable for teachers working in the remotest parts of Malawi where trading centres don’t even have electricity. But many centres that have electricity have seen entrepreneurial Malawians set up Internet cafes, with Internet charges as low as K5 ($0.03) per minute. I know of one teacher who taught in Kasungu in the early 2000s when there was no Internet café at Kasungu town. This teacher would take the bus every Saturday morning and go to Lilongwe, a 2-hour journey each way, so he could access the Internet. But I also know teachers today who reside within walking distance of free Internet access, and they have never used it.

Young Malawians, like their counterparts the world over, are taking to the Internet and 21st century technology much more rapidly than grown ups. I know of primary school pupils who have email addresses, and their teachers don’t. It is the same with other educators in the system, and in the society at large. Everyone who has a business in Malawi has a cellphone, which they proudly brand on their products, shop walls and in newspaper advertisements. It is still very rare, in 2010, to see Malawian advertisements carrying email addresses and website URLs, notwithstanding the proliferation of relatively cheap Internet access in cafes across trading centres in almost every district.

This year’s theme for the International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Women’s Empowerment.” UNESCO in Paris will on Wednesday September 8 award Literacy prizes to women’s projects that are promoting women’s empowerment through literacy. A Malawian group, Coalition of Women Farmers (COWFA), is this year receiving the 2010 Honourable Mention of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its Women Land Rights Project (WOLAR).

These Malawian women have charted a new way of looking at literacy. They are challenging our stereotypes of women as helpless, hapless victims who are hopelessly disempowered. They are showing us how empowerment is not a one-way, transmission-style process, but rather a self-motivated aspiration. As Julius Nyerere once wrote, people cannot be developed. They can only develop themselves. It is the same with empowerment. Women cannot be empowered by someone else; they can only empower themselves.

A profile describing the project undertaken by the Coalition of Women Farmers observes that only four percent of Malawian women own land, yet 70 percent of Malawian subsistence farmers are women. But it is also well known that Malawian women take up the responsibility of providing food for their families. Given the food crises Malawi has experienced in the first half of this decade, and the surpluses of the last four years, the empowerment of women in land ownership is one way of establishing a social structure that could ensure that food is available to more Malawians throughout the year. Using literacy to achieve that goal reinforces the understanding that reading, writing and numeracy should not be for their own sake, but rather for greater transformation and socio-economic well-being. Literacy is part of the framework within which each of the eight Millennium Development Goals ought to be understood and integrated, if they are to be seen as more than top-down, donor-driven rhetoric. 

That is how we ought to look at literacy, and address what many Malawians see as the absence of a reading culture. We should view literacy as a process of not just knowledge consumption but production as well, embracing new technologies to facilitate grassroots participation and promote human dignity, especially that of women, children, and those with special needs. More importantly, we should use modern literacies for the promotion of social justice and uMunthu-peace.  As we Malawians like to say, kuphunzira sikutha; learning never ends.


Acacia said...

Thanks for this intriguing exploration of literacy. I hope I can develop the 'life-long intellectual habits' you so highly recommend !
I agree that many Malawians lament the lack of a reading culture, although I suspect this may extend even beyond developing countries to a global phenomenon? (whos reading this blog?!!!)... I guess that’s where your new technology and digital literacy comes in.
As for knowledge consumption, what do trends in the book industry really indicate?
I have never ever bought a single book from central bookshop or Maneno, far too exorbitantly expensive. But lets not forget the second-hand bookshops in Blantyre run by DAPP; these shops sell novels and non-fiction ridiculously cheap… and do a roaring trade! In Lilongwe there is also the second-hand bookmart opp. Maula, apparently very successful. As you say, many are making good use of the services at the national libraries, which continue to attract good government (and British Conncil?) investment. Our own College of Medicine is building, what will be the biggest University of Malawi library in the country, as we speak. So it would seem that the literate are desperate to get their hands on exciting-and-affordable books.
I like your emphasis on knowledge production, so critical to learning. We can all agree that great works by Malawian authors used to be delightfully accessible. Now few get published, fewer make it to local shelves of the bookshops you mentioned (eg. William K), and even fewer are subsidised to affordable prices. But I do think there are some good channels of written communication, eg. newspapers - short stories and columns which are currently being underutilised, what can we do to raise the quality of knowledge production here?
I am happy to hear there are national organisations taking up this cause. Surely the efforts of MAWU and BPAM are worthy of our support as well as significant government funding?

reda said...

الفك والتركيب والتغليف والتحرك من خلال شركة نقل اثاث بجدة متميزة تحتاج الي ركن البيت للاستفادة من خدماتها التي لا تقدم غير خدمات نقل اثاث بجدة رائعة لتلبية طلبات العميل. فرؤية الشركة لدينا وضعت طريقة جيدة وضعت كخبراء في نقل الخدمات التي يحتاجها العملاء عند التعاون مع شركة نقل عفش بجدة فاختيار المواد الخاصة بك التي تستخدم في تغليف الاثاث فهذه المواد أو الأشياء ستكون موجودة على عتبة المنزل للتحرك بكل آمن و بقوة إلى المكان الذي ترغب فيه
شركة نقل الاثاث بالدمام
استخدام الأصول الأولى داخل الاستراتيجية التي تستخدمها شركة نقل عفش بالدمام لدينا تدفعنا إلى التفكير في إعطاء نوع من الخدمات المتميزة الي العملاء التي تترك نجاحا مباشرا يمكن أن تنقش على نفسية الزبائن التي تقدم لهم خدمة نقل العفش.فلدينا ميل إلى أن يشار جيدا إلى العاملون والفنين والمغلفون ان يقوموا بعملهم في شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام نتيجة للمعيار والتنمية والعقل
شركة نقل الاثاث بمكة
مجموعة معينة لدينا في شركة نقل عفش بمكة تساعدنا في خدمتك في أي وقت من اليوم، وأنهم على استعداد للبقاء على طول هذه الخطوط لاعطاءك خدمة متميزة عن باقي شركات نقل اثاث بمكة التي توجد بهذه المنطقة فلا أحد لدينا في خدمات النقل يترك شيئا حتي لا نقع في قليلا من السخط.
شركة تخزين الاثاث بالرياض
التعبئة والتغليف يبدأ بالعمل المتميز من اجل الحصول علي شركة تخزين عفش بالرياض متميزة تمتلك مستودعات تخزين اثاث بالرياض تحافظ علي الممتلكات الخاصة بكم من الخراب. كما ان التعبئة والتغليف على استعداد فريد للتعامل مع كل نوع من الأدوات والأشياء الزجاجية والمواد التي تميل إلى الإضرار أو تحمل بانتظام أسوأ جزء في عملية الحركة. فخدمات شركة تخزين اثاث بالرياض تقوم بإرسال أفضل مجموعة يتقن الوصول إليها في الوقت المناسب لتلبية طلب العميل وفقا لمتطلبات محددة خاصة بك في هذا المجال بسبب الطريقة التي كانت لدينا مجموعة من الخبراء في كيفية ادارة مستودعات تخزين اثاث منذ فترة طويلة في هذه الصناعة لفترة طويلة جدا.
شركة تخزين اثاث
شركة تخزين عفش

Unknown said...

ما هو التنظيف و كيفية أتقانة ؟
أن التنظيف هو أزالة الأتربة و المواد العضوية من على الأسطح المتسخة و المراد تنظيفها و تعتبر تلك المهمة ترأها الجميع بسيطة لكنها يترتب عليها العديد من عناصر الراحة و الأمان التى تضمنها لك النظافة و التنظيف من الأمور التى حثت عليها الأديان السماوية و التى شجعت دائما على النظافة بأعتبارها من الضروريات و التى تكون وقاية من العديد من الفيروسات و الأمراض و التى من أجلها كان حث كل الأديان السماوية على الحرص على التنظيف و التى لابد لها من عملها بكل سرعة و لا يجوز تأخيرها فترك المكان دون تنظيف يمكن أن يسبب المزيد

من الأضرار على المكان من أنتشار الحشرات و غيرها من
المشكلات و الأفات و التى تسبب لنا العديد من الأزعاج و القلق و خوف الكبار و الصغار من الحشرات و التى تنتشر بسبب أهمال التنظيف فلماذا كانت النظافة من الأيمان أى جزء من الأيمان و التى تصبح حينها النظافة جزء من الأيمان الذى يتحلى بة الفرد هكذا كانت النظافة و التنظيف من الأمور البالغة الأهمية و طرق و أساليب التنظيف تختلف دائما و كذلك الأدوات و المطهرات التى تستخدم فى التنظيف و تعتمد شركة تنظيف بالخبر على أفضل المعدات و الأدوات و التى تساعد على أنجاز مهمة التنظيف بكل سرعة و أتقان و غيرها من المميزات و التى تتوفر لدينا بسبب أستخدام تلك المعدات الأحدث فى العالم و التى نحرص دائما على أمتلاك تلك المعدات بأستمرار و بكأفة الطرازات و الموديلتشركة تنظيف منازل بالجبيل الشركات و المؤسسات الكبرى من أهم الأماكن التى تدخل ضمن حيز التنظيف الأوسع و الأهم فدعنى أطرح عليك ذلك السؤال هل دخلت من قبل مقر شركة غير نظيف دعنى من معرفة الأجابة الآن لكن سؤاء الرد بنعم أو لا هل عندما وجدتها بنعم ذهبت مرة أخرى و كررت الزيارة و أن كانت الأجابة لا ماذا كان أنطباعك الأول عن المكان و تلك الشركة و التى وجدتها نظيفة حتما سوف تكرر زيارة هذا المكان و لن تغير تلك الشركة و تذهب للشركات المنافسة فى هذا المجال الذى تعمل بة شركة نقل اثاث بالخبرليس هذا و فقط بل ستجد نفسك تنصح الجميع ممن يسألك بالتعامل مع تلك الشركة دون أن تشعر و بحافر لا أرادى منك كنوع من التشجيع و العرفان لهولاء القائمين على العمل فى تلك الشركة و من يدير تلك المؤسسة ستجد دائما الشركات العملاقة و التى تعمل مثل الساعات و الماكينات و الآت دائما نظيفة سوف تدافع عن أسمها و أنت أيضا إذا كنت من أصحاب تلك الشركات لابد لك من الأعتناء بجانب التنظيف و هنا ما يجب عليك فعلة هو التواصل فقط مع شركتنا و نحن سوف نتولى الأمر و أنت تشاهد ذلك بنفسك و شركة مكافحة حشرات بالجبيلتقيم ذلك و تقوم بأختيار الأنظمة المناسبة
شركة نظافة عامه بالدماممعك للتنظيف و التى تختلف من حيث المدة و مساحة المكان و العديد من الأختيارات و التى تسمح لنا بالأهتمام بك و السعى نحو تقديم خدمات تناسبك و تستفيد منها بالدرجة القصوى و التى تكون هدف مننا لتقديم أرقى خدمات التنظيف المقدمة لك لكن دعنا نتحدث عن مفهوم التنظيف بالشكل الأوسع شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالجبيل

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