As a child of illiterate parents, Kader Asmal, Minister of Education of South Africa, argues that the literacy success stories of his continent were due not to the North, but to the "resilience and triumph of people with nothing." African nations were left almost nothing at independence - the 4.5 million people of Zambia, for example, had just three high schools when the British departed. With up to a billion illiterate people around the world, including 30% of South Africans, the time has come to "join in the mobilization of the word". Asmal maintained it is vital to entrench basic education in the mother tongue, tapping into folk memories and building family cohesion. Technology is an adjunct and must not be allowed to take over.
Literacy rates have risen by 30% or more in at least ten nations over the last two decades, most notably in Saudi Arabia. According to national censuses, the ten countries with the largest percentage rise in literacy rates from 1970 to 1990 are: Saudi Arabia (53%); Kenya (38%); Yemen (34%); Algeria (33%); Botswana (33%); Haiti (32%); Angola (31%); Madagascar (31%); Ghana (30%); Jordan (30%). Ten developing countries have lifted percentage literacy levels to 90% or more: Jamaica (98%); Republic of Korea (96%); Uruguay (96%); Argentina (95%); Cuba (94%); Philippines (94%); Chile (93%); Costa Rica (93%); Thailand (93%); Paraguay (90%). Several of the world's poorest nations (per capita GNP below US$1,000) have achieved literacy rates of 75% or more, whilst in other countries with several times the wealth, literacy still languishes below 70%. Examples of the former include [inter alia]: the Philippines (94% literacy); Viet Nam (88% literacy); Sri Lanka (88% literacy); Peru (85% literacy); Indonesia (82% literacy; China (78% literacy). However, lenient definitions of literacy in part count towards some countries' literacy figures.
2. Literacy and adult education are crucial to political enfranchisement and true social development.