The theme of the International Literacy Day 2021 is- “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”. The 8th of September was declared as the International Literacy Day by the UNESCO in 1966 to underline the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for concerted efforts towards more literate societies. Bangladesh observes the the day with huge importance. It is an annual awareness day which marks the importance of literacy to all countries and cultures.
Still, 750 million adults around the world cannot read and write, the majority of them are women. Literacy is not just about educating, it is a unique and powerful tool to eradicate poverty and a strong means for social and human progress. Literacy empowers individuals and improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value. The pandemic, however, is a reminder of the critical importance of literacy.
For an estimated eight million of these students, the wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over 18 months and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic. This number includes almost four million first-time learners from Bangladesh, where educational institutions have been closed since 17 March 2020 – the second-longest COVID-19 school closure in the world.
In Bangladesh, the prolonged shutdown of educational institutions throughout the pandemic has affected over 40 million students from the pre-primary to the higher education level. The longer children remain out of school, the less likely they are to return as they face multifarious increased risks of violence, poverty, child labour, and child marriage. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of lockdowns and school closures are magnifying the existing literacy challenges and exponentially increasing the inequity between children who are supported to read and those who are not.
In 2019, the literacy rate in Bangladesh was 74.68%; however, the development has been critically disrupted in the 2020 due to school closure and pandemic. With lockdown and new normal, things have been figured out to ensure work, education, through online. Work from home and online Education became a necessity; but effectiveness of the online education could not impact much. With this growing digital need, pandemic also unveiled the digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the ability to engage with technology.
The literacy is under threat as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of disruption to education, impacting over 90% of the world’s student population. Despite the efforts of government and different organizations to address the ongoing crisis, some thousands of children – often the poorest and most marginalised – have no access to distance learning. Even if children can access distance learning materials, many do not have literate parents who can help them.
International Literacy Day 2021 aims at exploring how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centred recovery, with a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults. It also aims to explore what makes technology-enabled literacy learning inclusive and meaningful to leave no one behind. By doing so, the year 2021 may be an opportunity to work for future literacy teaching and learning, within and beyond the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bangladesh Government has already planned to reopen schools on 12 September for in-person learning, and they must immediately address the gaps in learning this pandemic has already created. Unless is done, some children may never catch up. We are calling for governments to focus on three key priorities for recovery in schools: targeted programmes to bring all children and youth back in school where they can access tailored services to meet their learning, effective remedial learning to help students catch up on lost learning; support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching.
We must make sure that every child is supported to return to school when it’s safe to do so – and that education systems are stronger, so that every child gets a good education and the chance to build a better future.
The writer is an educational researcher and teacher educator