By: Sarah Osei, Regional Lead, Instill Education (West Africa) & Riche-Mike Wellington, Chief Programme Specialist, Ghana Commission for UNESCO
Accra, the capital city of Ghana, has been named as the UNESCO World Book Capital for 2023, the fourth city in Africa to receive this title. The title stemmed from a presentation of a strong program in the city targeting young people and their ability to contribute to the culture and wealth of Ghana through the transformative power of reading and creative writing. The winning of this title demonstrate the giant strides Ghana and Africa are making in developing the book and creative arts industries, as well as skill-up the youth for socio-economic development.
The program targets marginalized groups that have high levels of illiteracy, including women, youth, street children, and persons with disabilities. The year-long program seeks to provide institutional support for lifelong learning and stimulate the culture of reading and creativity to positively impact Ghanaian society towards achieving the national goal of becoming a learning nation. The program is expected to impact about 100,000 children, youth, and adults across the country.
The program is broken down into six broad thematic areas. The first is to transform minds and promote lifelong learning through a series of reading promotion activities targeting the youth nationwide. The second is to provide schools and communities with books and reading infrastructure, including the construction of a facility in Accra for reading and creative writing. The third is to promote the Florence Agreement and the publication and use of books in Ghanaian languages to revamp the Ghanaian book industry. The fourth is to promote creative skills to address rising unemployment, substance abuse, truancy in schools, and teenage pregnancy among the youth, as well as equip the youth and the disadvantaged with 21st-century skills toward socio-economic transformation. The fifth is to promote fundamental human rights to advance the right of access to information through books and encourage the art of publishing. The sixth is to safeguard and promote Ghanaian arts and culture towards inclusivity and diversity of cultural expressions within the context of acceptable cultural norms. Read more
The World Book City award acknowledges the power of books and reading as cornerstones to a more inclusive, equitable, peaceful, and sustainable society. Cities designated as World Book Capitals undertake to promote literacy, lifelong learning, freedom of expression, copyright, and other activities which encourage the culture of reading in all age categories, both within and beyond national borders.
It also means much more than a reading campaign to many Ghanaians and Africans. For many, it is an opportunity for the government, local and international partners to leverage its diverse linkages to education and culture to deepen collective actions towards meaningful progress in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Others have also argued that the project could serve as a catalyst for investment in the creative and cultural sectors to enable this growing sector to provide decent jobs for the teaming young men and women.
Available statistics, including from the recent Spotlight Born to Learn report by the Gem Report, AU and ADEA, show that, although many countries in Africa are taking giant steps to ensure inclusive and quality education for all, too many children are still being left behind. At the primary level, the report suggests that one in five primary-age children are not in the classroom. The Book Capital project could help change the narrative.
As documented in the national Spotlight Report on Ghana the government of Ghana is making great strides in education through several interventions such as: making secondary education free; establishing STEM Centers; developing adapted curricula at all levels; improving the quality of teachers and the teaching profession; and promoting the use of digital technologies to improve access, equity, and inclusiveness to guarantee a just and sustainable society. But there is still much more work to be done to improve the quality of education to make Ghanaian youth competitive and relevant in the changing world of work. It is time for Ghana and African governments to be intentional about developing the skill sets of young people to be creative and innovative citizens successful in this 21st Century society and workplaces.
Ghana has also made progress in literacy development through drama, poetry recitals, drum language, dance, and choral music – all of which are central to the goals of Accra World Book Capital and present moments for students to use diverse representations for communications. Notwithstanding these successes, the indigenous African culture and the rich Ghanaian heritage are gradually losing value among young people, leading to cultural assimilation with other cultures. In that context, there is the need to support the creative and arts industry to preserve and promote the rich Ghanaian traditional cultures amid the intense acculturation environment. This will help to safeguard the Ghanaian and African identity.