Speech of a former General Director

September 29, 2017

Fifty first International Literacy Day

Theme: Literacy in a digital world

Members of Government

The Governor of the Center Region

The Government Delegate to the Yaounde Urban Council

Distinguish leaders of international and Non profit organizations

Dear Partners in Education

Ladies and gentlemen

It is an honor and privilege to take the floor and speak on behalf of the civil society partners in literacy today. The theme for the International Literacy Day is “Literacy in a digital world”

The objectives on this theme by UNESCO are:

  • To reflect on what it means to be literate in increasingly digitally-mediated societies;

  • To explore effective policies and programmes for literacy skills development in a digital world; and

  • To explore how digital technologies can support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal 4, especially Target 4.6 on youth and adult literacy.

I will start with a conversation a mom had with two of her kids recently.

Hunter: Mom what is blue ray and DVD?

Riley: Blue ray is what Mom needs to get because DVD's are what they used to use in the old days. I don't even think they make DVD's anymore.

Mom: Excuse me!! They still sell DVD's and ours work just fine! I'm not that old, geez!

Hunter: So old people have DVD’s?

Riley: Yep. Except Grandpa got with the program and has blue ray. Follow his lead Mom; Follow his lead.

The radical disruptions taking place in the technological world are changing the way we live, create new possibilities, practices and demands. Where ever you look, our world is taking on a digital dimension.

These radical changes challenge our traditional concept of a literate person. To thrive, we need to be agile and take advantage of the changes in our world to impact our communities and peoples.

Traditional literacy consisted in reading writing, speaking and listening.

Today’s new literacy is complex and includes traditional literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, critical literacy, media literacy, tool literacy, digital literacy and much more.

Digital literacy is the ability to use digital technology, communication tools networks to locate evaluate, use and create information.

In their 2016-2025 strategy for jobs for youth in Africa, the African Development Bank states: “The scale of the youth unemployment problem in Africa requires bold, ambitious approaches.”

In a 2016 report on the world economic forum website, they state: “We are destined for failure if everyone tries to go it alone. Private sector, governments, inter-governmental organizations, non-profits, individuals … now is the time to harness the power of collaboration.”

When we look at the impact of cellphone technology, internet access and smart phones in Cameroon we can see how innovation can leapfrog older technologies at an almost breathtaking speed.

This has the potential to enable us build the capacity of our people to not only have access to information that helps each one not only put food on the table but to enable them develop skills that facilitate their contribution to the development of their communities and the nation.

Smart phones are changing the way our people engage with one another and how they access knowledge. Internet access and the smart phone revolution presents an exciting opportunity. It is having an impact on the life of the everyday Cameroonian in the social, political and economy levels from access to paying basic amenities like water, electricity, to financial transactions, to political rallies and sharing ideologies.

You don’t need to look very far to see the power of the digital to mobilize people towards common action. We saw its power last Friday in the North West and South West Regions as people came out in their villages, towns and cities to make their voices heard.

Where do most of our young people go to when they need to know about something. They don’t go to their big brothers nor to mom or dad. You google it! Or you check it out on youtube! Today, some of my mothers and aunties I didn’t imagine could use a smart phone, are on Facebook, on imo, on whatsapp etc. They want to have access to information, they want to stay connected, in touch with family and friends.

Most our people have the smart phones every where they go right there in their pockets, in their handbags. We must take advantage of it and leverage it for the good of our people and to foster learning and sustainable development in our communities.

At CABTAL part of our dream is to see communities use their mother tongue to not only engage with God’s Word, but to access information that help improve their lives and to participate in the sustainable development of their communities. For us literacy is no longer just learning how to read your mother tongue. Part of it is about how to take advantage of the smart phone and internet revolution to leverage significant learning for everyone and contribute to the spiritual, social and economic growth in our communities.

Civil society organizations working in the domain of literacy and development, are taking advantage of these new technologies to help advance knowledge, develop culturally relevant tools, create access to information and an environment where people can thrive using these tools.

Mrs. Minister, the greatest challenge in my opinion in taking great strides to digital literacy in Cameroon lies in integrating all stakeholders to collaborate more effectively and in institutional support.

NACALCO, is doing a phenomenal job with their program ERELA (Ecole rurale électronique en langues africaines). It is being developed and testing is going on in a number of communities. The results show that this is a very effective program to combat illiteracy. NACALCO is helping language communities to develop didactic materials. For NACALCO the digital disruptions offer great opportunities to develop mother tongue resources in partnership with communities.

SIL Int’l has developed an app called “bloom”. Bloom allows the creation of large and diverse books in a short time by speakers of the language. Indeed, the software contains built-in book models and a model book library dealing with a variety of topics that can be translated into local languages according to the needs of the communities. Thanks to this digital contribution, books can be developed quicker than ever before. This app is accessible through smart phones and synchronizes both text and audio.

CABTAL is a Cameroonian organization involved in 83 different language groups in 10 regions of Cameroon. As an organization we have invested extensively in the development of personnel in our language software technology unit as well as people in the various communities we serve. These language software experts have added a dimension to our work in ways that facilitate tool and digital literacy as well as access to various resources in the mother tongue. They have opened a new window of opportunities for us and communities.

In partnership with the communities we serve, each community organization is developing the material and IT infrastructure to carry out its work. These infrastructures make communication and work easy. Each community uses software that allows input from consultants and expert anywhere in the world. That is the world with live in! A global village indeed!

Our language software technology service staff meet every year with others from around the world to compare notes, share best practices and learn from one another. Our language software technology staffs are now able to build apps that help language speakers of the languages we serve to have access to the resources developed in these language. We have developed apps in seven languages that can be used on android phones. We plan to do it in all languages we serve in Cameroon. People in are communities are being trained and are involved in the development of these literacy apps.

Thanks to our partnership with SIL, we are using the bloom app they developed for linguistics and literacy. We have a project to transform printed materials we have developed to digital. These resources range from the Bible, human rights, health, agriculture, how to create a micro finance, how to make a compost, beekeeping, how to make ginger powder etc in 26 languages from five regions of Cameroon. It will be available in text and audio so that those who are not able to read can listen and learn.

Mrs. Minister, we need a deeper collaboration with the Ministry of Education to undertake some of the great challenges together and give opportunity to our people and for our nation to compete in the global stage.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear invitees, illiteracy is a handicap that can be overcome. We must work together to make this digital disruption work for us and for Cameroon. I want to end by thanking the Minister for creating this space for us to celebrate achievements, look to the future with a common vision and work together!

Cameroon is in our prayers and may God bless Cameroon!

Thank you!

General Director