Since 1967, International Literacy Day has been celebrated annually on 8 September to remind the world at large about the importance of education and literacy. Despite great changes and initiatives by numerous countries, there are still 773 million adults worldwide who lack basic literacy skills. Essentially, one in five adults is still not literate – out of these, two-thirds are women.
Education and literacy are fundamental human rights that lead to upward social and economic mobility, freedom of choice, sustainable growth, poverty reduction, improvement of health conditions, and prevention of autocratic rule.
Literacy in 2020
In 2020, this human right has been infringed upon for the poorest sections of the society due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has led to a shift to online education and examination, which discriminates against those without access to smartphones, laptops, electricity, and high-speed internet. Additionally, it has led to a complete upheaval of the education sector due to the shutdown of schools.
During the pandemic, schools in over 130 countries were shut down, affecting the education of approximately 1.27 billion children and youth. With regard to teachers and educators, this shutdown of educational institutes affected 63 million primary and secondary school teachers in over 165 countries.
Thus, this year, the theme of International Literacy Day 2020 is ‘Literacy, Teaching, and Learning in the Covid-19 Crisis and Beyond’ with a special focus on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.
The Situation in India
In India, this is particularly worrisome as schoolchildren and families often depend on mid-day meals for regular, balanced nutrition. This shutdown of schools and educational institutions has led to an increase in child labor across the country and has put the girl child at risk for child marriage. The lockdown has led to a reversal of the gains made against child marriage, child labor, forced marriage, and education for the girl child.
This does not even count the teachers. Educational institutes are often underfunded, and teachers are forced to bring in school supplies from their own paycheck. During this pandemic, it is important to remember that not all teachers possess the required technology for online teaching, nor are they all comfortable teaching through this methodology. This creates an even bigger divide between educators and their students, as the educators themselves are unable to provide adequate education and information.
This shines a light on the struggling nature of our education system and the strides we, as a country, still need to make. After all, according to a UNESCO report, South Asia has the lowest adult literacy rate (58.6%).
How do we close this gap between policy and reality? How do we ensure that everyone has access to technological resources and the internet? What does the shift to online teaching mean for public education?
Another important sector of the society that can no longer be ignored – adults who lack basic literacy skills. During the initial scramble towards online education, many adult literacy programs were ignored, and therefore, scrapped entirely. This leaves a massive hole in the lives of adult students. In fact, there are more adults without literacy today than 50 years ago. According to the UNESCO Education Assistant-Director General, Qian Tang, this means that global education efforts have not sufficiently kept up with the population growth.
It is evident that we, as a society, need to focus on adults as well as children and ensure there is equal access to digital technology, educational resources such as textbooks, and constant training for educators to keep up with the changing times.
What Can We Do To Help?
There are no easy answers or solutions to these issues. While they do require intervention from the highest levels, we, as individuals, can also help. A simple way to do so would be through donations to charities and NGOs such as CRY (Child Rights and You) and PPES (Pardada-Pardadi Education Society). Additionally, if possible, you can also research and donate to your local NGOs as no donation is too small.
During these uncertain times, we must ensure a constant stream of information to everyone. So, if you have domestic help, maybe help them with their academics by asking them or their children to write small letters or passages on common topics. You can always check their grammar and spelling. This will ensure they stay engaged and don’t lose their educational skills and muscle memory. Keep the people around you updated on the ever-changing nature of the pandemic – this goes for everyone from your friends and family to your domestic help, security guards, and even nearby shopkeepers.
Remember, knowledge is power. So, take this time to brush up on your own skills or learn something new through online courses and classes. On Spark.Live, you’ll find multiple educators offering everything from foreign language classes to English language training to even science and maths courses! By staying busy and challenging your brain, you can keep mental health issues and stress at bay and learn something you’ve always wanted to.
Literacy and education are complicated topics and require intervention at every level, from the individual to international. This International Literacy Day, let’s vow to do our little bit and help people as much as we can.