Covid-19 pandemic threatens the progress of global literacy

CAPE TOWN- The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted school operations and learning programmes around the world which could threaten the progress of literacy. Experts say the best response would be to re-imagine education and find new ways of learning post-pandemic.

On Tuesday, International Literacy Day was celebrated around the world as a reminder of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), despite progress made over the decades, literacy challenges persist with at least 773 million adults worldwide lacking basic literacy skills.

In an article published on the World Economic Forum, founder of the education and research focused Yidan Prize Foundation, Charles Chen Yidan, says that the literacy challenge remains significant in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

“The world’s literacy rate increased from 69 percent in 1976 to 86 percent in 2016. Progress has been made in every part of the world, but the literacy challenge remains significant in sub-Saharan Africa (where 64 percent of people are literate), South Asia (71 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (80 percent),” he said.


The closure of schools and adult literacy programmes have been a challenge for remote schools as much of the online learning technology is inaccessible.

The theme for this year’s International Literacy day from UNESCO is “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”. Yidan says this emphasizes the role of educators and new teaching methods for the “new normal”.

“It also points to the slow pace or lack of change that has created an educational inequity between developed and developing nations. This can be an isolating experience for young and adult learners around the world,” he said.

The challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic have created an opportunity for discovery, curiosity, and a chance for decision-makers to re-imagine education, says Yidan, and philanthropy can be a powerful driver of innovation and curiosity.

“We have seen great innovation in response to the current crisis. Academic research and development projects can investigate educational policy that allows policy-makers, educators and the general public to see the evidence for “what works” in the field of education,” he said.


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