Literacy for a human-centred recovery:
Narrowing the digital divide
Literacy opens a world of opportunities. Everyone has the right to learn how to read and write, but far too many women & girls continue to be left behind. As we mark #LiteracyDay, let’s renew our commitment to equitable education for all.António Guterres
UN Secretary General
Literacy is the most valuable aspect of human life. Observation of International Literacy Day reminds the world about the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights and advancing the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. According to UNESCO, literacy is the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed, and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
UNESCO data indicates that almost one-fourth of the youth (aged 15-24) could not read or write five decades back, and the number stands 8% today. More than 775 million adults remain illiterate. That is, one in five adults is still not literate, two-thirds of them being women. 61 million children are out of school, and many more attend irregularly or drop out. One of Sustainable Development Goals targets is: “by 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”. Concerted efforts are needed from all to achieve the goal.
International Literacy Day, on 8 September, was founded by the proclamation of UNESCO in 1966 “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights”. The focus for the year 2021 is “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”. It is an opportunity to analyse effective policies, governance and measures that can support educators and learning. The COVID pandemic is a chance to reflect on how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes. During COVID-19, schools were closed, disrupting the education of the students. In many countries, adult literacy programmes have come to a standstill. International Literacy Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the role of innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond. Several parents are worried about the disruption of their child’s education. Distance learning assisted by technology has been adopted as a temporary solution. It brought to the fore the digital divide.
According to UNESCO, South Asia has the lowest regional adult literacy rate (58.6%), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (59.7%). Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali are the countries with the lowest literacy rates. The global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is 86.3%, and there is a wide gap between male and female literacy. The percentage varies throughout the world, with developed nations having a rate of 99.2%. In India, reflecting the efforts made by various governments, the literacy rate has risen from 16.1% before Independence to 74% as per the 2011 census. Kerala has the highest literacy rate, with Bihar being the least literate state. However, Bihar has shown significant improvement as per the latest census. A higher population growth rate overshadowed the growth in literacy. Non-governmental agencies like People’s Science Movements, Rotary Club, Lions Club have contributed to improving the literacy rate in India.
How are our neighbours doing on the literacy front?
In the adult literacy rate, China, Sri Lanka, Myanmar are doing better than the world average, way down. India is doing better than the world average regarding the Youth Literacy rate (age 15-24).
There is a clear connection between illiteracy and poverty, and prejudice against women. While the struggle continued to make the world literate, giving purposeful education and making the youth employable is a challenge that the developing countries need to address on priority. While the struggle continues to make the world literate, the more daunting task is to provide purposeful education and making the youth employable, a challenge that the developing countries need to address on priority. Equally challenging is to adopt inclusive policies to address the needs of the tribal communities and adopt measures that would preserve their nativity.
*Access the ToonLog written in the year 2020:
International Literacy Day