Low literacy rates in sub-Saharan African countries makes it difficult for people to access media and influences how they receive and react to news.
Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia have the lowest adult literacy rates with the 2017 UNESCO Institute of Statistics Factsheet noting rates below 50% in some countries in these two subcontinents.
This comes as the world marks International Literacy Day on September 8.
University of Johannesburg’s Head of Department for Strategic Communications Dr Maritha Pritchard said that in low literacy regions, scandals, sex and reality TV become more popular than serious news content.
“If people have low literacy levels, then popular media and tabloid journalism and content that does not require critical thinking become more popular and easier to understand and digest,” Dr Pritchard said.
This, in turn, influences media consumption patterns. According to the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa (BRCSA), people in the rural areas consume less media than people in urban and metropolitan cities.
The council’s April 2018 statistics says people in the rural areas have a television viewership of 29% compared to combined 71% of urban and metropolitan cities. It also records radio listenership of 32% compared to 68% of people in the urban and metropolitan cities.
Because women still lag behind men in terms of both literacy and education rates, Dr Pritchard said that implications of this include “decreased economic development opportunities for women so that they are not financially independent and often have to marry young, raise many children and have short life expectancy for them and their children”.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 750 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – remain illiterate. The new literacy target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) says all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, should achieve literacy and numeracy.
“Literacy gives women access not just to information but to the ability to use that information to better their own lives and their lives of their families,” said frayintermedia MD Paula Fray.
“It is therefore imperative that we continue to strive to achieve the goals outlined by the SDGs.”