File picture

Johannesburg  – Nearly 3 in 10 young people aged between 15 and 24 years old – 59 million – living in countries affected by conflict or disaster are illiterate, triple the global rate, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday.

Niger, Chad, South Sudan and Central African Republic – all countries with a long history of instability and high levels of poverty – are home to the highest illiteracy rates among young people with 76 per cent, 69 per cent, 68 per cent and 64 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds, respectively, unable to read or write.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children’s education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore in a statement released ahead of Global Partnership for Education (GPE) financing conference in Dakar. 

The United Nations children’s agency says it will need around $1 billion (about R12 billion) for education programmes this year

“An uneducated child who grows into an illiterate youth in a country ripped apart by conflict or destroyed by disasters may not have much of a chance.”

This new analysis – calculated using UNESCO’s literacy rates in 27 emergency countries featured in UNICEF’s 2018 Humanitarian Action for Children appeal.

The analysis also notes that girls and young women are at the biggest disadvantage when it comes to reading and writing, with 33 per cent of them in emergency countries failing to learn even the basics, compared to 24 per cent of boys.

"Yet, despite its role in leveling the playing field for the most vulnerable children and young people, education remains severely underfunded," said the statement. 

"Currently, only 3.6 per cent of humanitarian funding goes toward providing education for children living in emergencies, making it one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals.

"Overall, UNICEF estimates that it will spend about $1 billion a year on education programmes over the next four years. Just yesterday, UNICEF launched a humanitarian appeal for $900 million (about R1.06 billion) for education in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters."

UNICEF said it works in countries around the world to get children into school and learning including by providing accelerated education and non-formal learning opportunities, training teachers, rehabilitating schools and distributing school furniture and supplies.

"In West and Central Africa, home to emergency countries with the highest rates of illiteracy among youth at 39 per cent and where the third replenishment conference will be hosted, UNICEF works with a range of partners to help children learn despite conflict and insecurity," said the statement. 

"A partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, for example, is helping expand an innovative radio education programme that provides an alternative learning platform for children and youth affected by crises." 

More than 144 episodes on literacy and numeracy are broadcast across radio in French, Fulfulde, Hausa and Kanouri. UNICEF said the programme will soon be rolled out in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.

In the statement UNICEF urges governments and other partners to provide young children in emergencies with access to quality early education programmes to support their development and set them up to continue learning throughout their childhood.

UNICEF also urges them to offer illiterate young people with opportunities to learn to read, write and further their education through specially designed alternative and accelerated programmes.

Another matter UNICEF urged governments and its partners to partake in was the increase of investment in education, particularly for the most disadvantaged children and youth.

“Education can make or break a child’s future,” Fore said. “For all children to fully reap the benefits of learning, it is key that they get the best quality education possible, as early as possible.”  

African News Agency/ANA