Illiteracy—the inability to read and write—places great hardship on an individual.
Being unable to read, or to write anything more than one’s name, both limits a person’s knowledge and damages their feelings of self-worth. They may have low self-confidence or feel emotions such as shame, fear, and powerlessness. They tend to avoid situations where their inability to read and write may be discovered and often find themselves unable to participate fully in society or government.
In Uganda, illiteracy is a great problem. For women and girls, it is even greater. The Uganda Bureau of Statistics Census 2014 provides these statistics:
- Persons aged 18 years and above who are illiterate: 41.7%
- Males aged 18 years and above who are illiterate: 22.4%
- Females aged 18 years and above who are illiterate: 56.6%
Causes of Illiteracy
There are many causes of illiteracy. If a person is born to parents with little formal schooling, the likelihood of their being illiterate, or experiencing severe learning difficulties, will be higher. This situation is called an inter-generational transmission of illiteracy. An ineffective educational system leads to widespread ignorance about the value of education. Other causes of illiteracy in Uganda, especially among girls, include these:
- Parents with little schooling are likely not to see the importance of education and will, therefore, not educate their children.
- When parents have no understanding of the importance of reading, there is a lack of books and stimulation in the home.
- Performing poorly in class leads to dropping out of school, thereby increasing the number of students who do not complete high school.
- Poverty is a severe problem, and most parents are unable to provide academic materials for their children.
- Cultural practices encourage the belief that girls should mature to marry, produce children, and stay home to take care of the children and perform garden work. These beliefs encourage parents not to attach any importance to the education of the girl child.
- The cultural practice of forcing young girls to marry so the family will receive income through the bride price/dowry leads to girls not continuing their education.
- There is a lack of role models in the community to inspire or to be admired by children.
- Long distances between home and school have led to many students dropping out before completing high school.
- The molestation of girls by boys/men on the way to school, or even in school, discourages school participation and may lead to pregnancy.
- Often there is a lack of washrooms and proper facilities in schools.
- Girl students suffer embarrassment when parents make no provision for sanitary pads for their daughters.
- Going to school on an empty stomach and studying hungry for the whole day tempts many girls to abandon school for small business.
Effects on Women
Women in Uganda pay an especially heavy price for illiteracy. They:
- Are unable to read the Bible and reflect on the word of God.
- Cannot read their children’s school results or help them with schoolwork.
- Have low self-confidence.
- Are unable to make independent decisions.
- Have low income because they are unqualified for employment in the formal sector.
- Lack understanding of family planning and, as a result, produce many children for whom they are unable to provide basic needs of life for a decent living.
- Do not have access to bank loans and other services because they can’t read or understand the terms.
- If participating in business, they are unable to keep records of what they do to assess whether they are making a profit or losses.
- Suffer the most severe effect on the health of their families. The inability to read the prescription on drugs has led mothers to give an overdose or underdose to their children or themselves.