Literacy

International Literacy Day and the COVID crisis

International Literacy Day, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
International Literacy Day, Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Today the world observers `International Literacy Day’ with the theme “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.’ Today’s reality of the world openly proclaims that only the ability to read and write in one’s own language does not necessarily mean achieving literacy. It does not definitely escape our attention that the teachers of all levels ranging from primary to tertiary have resorted to the virtual class using different platforms to continue their educational works during this COVID-19 pandemic that was entirely unknown to them before coming Covid-19 crisis.

Their adaptability with the new situation to retain their educational works has come up as basic skills that need not be overemphasized.  People’s having no acquaintance with these devices is tantamount to making them illiterate of modern world. International Literacy Day 2020 provides an opportunity to reflect on and discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond. The Day will also give an opportunity to analyses the role of educators, as well as formulate effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning. 

Virtual learning has quickly jumped into the educational arena during this corona pandemic. Any ICT device witnesses the flood of online classes conducted either by teachers individually or by educational institutions. However, risks falling by the wayside as many students, especially those from poorer families and disadvantaged groups, are finding it difficult to cope with. Overall, an urgent rescue and recovery plan is necessary to offset the impacts of the pandemic on education. Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) has urged the government to initiate a three-year education recovery plan. It rightly has done it as the students who are waiting to come to schools will experience a huge loss by this time they have incurred and those who have already dropped out will forget the basic literacies they have earned so far.

 In 1967 UNESCO gave the definition of literacy but every ten years this definition gets changed, conforming to the practicality of the world and in 1993, literacy was defined as one individual’s ability to read and write small sentences about himself/herself and do the daily accounts of his life in his own language. But the changing perspective of the world, particularly in this COVID situation, puts us into question whether we can call someone literate having these abilities. Being a citizen of the global village, only becoming familiar with one’s own mother tongue cannot enable one to adjust to the situation.

These devices make someone familiar with the ways of taking security measures, avoid diseases and get cured of the disease and social security by using devices even though they do not have well familiarity with the English language. Literacy contributes to establishing peace in the world, along with achieving individual freedom. People can now know where COVID-19 was born, how it spread across the globe, how to protect it and how to save oneself from it. All these messages remain available online and people collect by touching a mobile screen or laptop. Seventy percent of people use the internet across the world and among the young, this rate stands 90 percent. The citizens of Bangladesh who have internet connection maintain an 80 percent Facebook account. The youth of 13 to 17 years old, more than 60 percent of them have at least one social profile and spend more than two hours on it.

Almost all professionals have Facebook accounts. A survey conducted in April 2017 in Dhaka and its surrounding area shows that about two crore 20 lac people use Facebook very actively. ( Bonik  Barta September 19, 2017). YouTube users are 150 crores, Whatsapp 120 crore, Facebook messenger 120 crore and iChat users 93crore 80 lac (Internet August 2017) in the world. These figures definitely have increased by this time. Why people use Facebook? The answer is very simple. While you are tired and taking rest on the sofa or the bed, you can learn the latest messages and occurrences of your country and the world. Does it not say that it is a necessary device to live in today’s world? When it is so, it is definitely called a new literacy. This must be an integral part of today’s literacy.

More than 26 crore children do not go to school and 62 crore humans stand beyond the diameters of literacy and minimum ability. However, the world sees billions of dollars are being spent on producing and buying arms. The inhabitants of Dubai lead a very luxurious and sumptuous life who are billionaires in every five people. What they do to expose their luxurious life is a matter of great concern for the sensuous people of the world.  They rear ferocious animals, keep them their drawing rooms and bear them in their cars worth of taka ten crores to hundred crores. Just the opposite scene we see in African and Asian countries where children cannot go to school only because of poverty, they struggle to become familiar with their own alphabets, how opposite picture surfaces in this modern world! Who will minimize this gap?

UNO’s sustainable development goals are 17, out of them, goal number 4 talks about quality education, equality and inclusivity. It also talks about producing skilled and quality teachers, increasing their number, training and international cooperation. If these goals can be achieved by 2030, we can expect that our country will reach the line of developed country by 2041 but before doing all these, the curse of illiteracy must be banished. Still, we see three crores and 25 lac people do not know how to read and write in our country. The world began observing September 8 as the ‘Literacy Day’ to give the light of education to those who have been deprived of it. It originated in the ‘world literacy conference’ that took place in Tehran in 1965 and UNESCO started to observe the day since 1966 though Bangladesh began celebrating the day since 1972.

We know the literacy rate was 35.03 percent in Bangladesh in 1991 and a ‘combined informal education plan’ was taken up to spread education across the country and its upshot showed 47.09 percent literacy in 2001. The effort and combined struggle of both the government and the non-government sector to bring a hundred percent child to primary school is going to see its extreme success soon with hundred percent children getting the light of education in primary education. Currently, the literacy rate of the country is 73.9 percent. Seven hundred fifty million adults – two-thirds of whom are women of the world still lack basic reading and writing skills that definitely slaps the whole of mankind as it cannot claim to be civilized or advanced keep this large figure of humans still illiterate.

In 185 countries, 154 crore 25 lac students cannot go to school due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect is supposed to be longer-lasting in their life. Now is the time to show the leadership and responsibilities of the teachers to come up with some new suggestions and measures. In China 23 crore 30 lac children could not go to school and Bangladesh occupies the fourth position in this regard. Educational institutions have been closed since March 17 and the authorities of education and teachers have started an alternative class for students since March 29 using Sangbad TV channel.

Geneva-based World Economic Forum says that about twelve crore children of China attend classes watching TV. Gloria Tam, an official of Minerva Project that works for educative innovation, says,” Corona situation has forced millions of children to attend homeschooling particularly in the high Covid-19 prone countries such as Iran, China, South Korea and Italy. We encourage this innovation in education, even though it has some loopholes.”

To continue educational activities and prevent dropout, digital education is a must. Many children have been dropping out because of being unable to meet the expenditure of the data plan and digital device. And dropping out means forgetting the already developed and achieved literary skills. The teachers’ and educators’ innovative, local and individual responses truly contribute to keeping the pace of education that promises a complete literate world soon.    

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as a Program Manager in BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and Vice-President of Bangladesh English Language Teachers’ Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Leave a Comment