Some of us have had enough of the international days already. From the International Mother Language Day to International Women’s Day, to International Day of Happiness and now to the International Literacy Day. These international days serve as powerful reminders to many issues we take for granted like the ability to read and write.
When we take a critical look at literacy, we will understand that it has far-reaching effects than the ability to read books, newspapers and road signs. There are some social, cultural and economic benefits of literacy for individuals as well as the economy. The claim that literacy goes beyond reading and writing can be alluded to UNESCO’s explanation of literacy that: “literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world”.
It is then no surprise that we live in a society where being regarded as an “illiterate” sounds insulting. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English simply defines “illiterate” as “someone who has not learned to read or write”. So, what is the big deal about reading and writing?
Our lives have changed in several ways this year 2020, such that we all are learning to adapt daily. The current realities of the world in this period of COVID-19 call for us to re-examine matters which we take for granted such as literacy. There are discussions we are not having about literacy in Nigeria and this article is here to point them out:
- Not all children attending school are literate: it is almost unbelievable that a child attending a school can still be regarded as an illiterate when school is meant to offer literacy skills to children. But, here is where the quality of education matters a lot. I have met a primary 4 pupil of a public primary school in a remote village in Nigeria who could not spell her name, let alone write it.
Similarly, other people have shared their experience with primary school graduates who cannot read. The point is that we do not have to keep children in school if they are not gaining essential skills that will make them independent adults. Hence, we should ensure that schools are offering adequate literacy skills at all levels of education.
- The learning crisis is worse now: According to some infographics by the United Nations on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, school closures due to COVID-19 kept 90% of all students out of school- reversing years of progress on education. The effect of school closures on literacy will vary for children depending on if they get educational support from home. We know that remote learning is out of reach for some children. Therefore, an extended period of these school closures will affect the children struggling with literacy without out-of-school learning support.
- Literacy support programmes are important to inspire hope in communities: These are trying times for everyone in the world and we are all looking for ways to support ourselves. There have been many laudable initiatives to support communities at these times. Many of these have revolved around providing food and sanitation to people in low-income communities. However, little progress has been made towards educational support in these communities. Children from low-income households do not have access to sophisticated remote learning facilities. As a result, parents are looking for what to do with their children during the period of school closure. One way to restore hope in these communities is to support literacy programmes that can keep children engaged even when their schools are locked.
- Literacy is a tool for empowerment: When people can read and write, they reap the benefits of literacy for themselves and their communities. They become aware of their rights and can compete favourably with their peers. Literacy bridges the gap of social exclusion and promotes active civic engagement. In other words, we can harness the benefits of literacy to bring people out of the cycle of poverty. The World Bank in a report emphasizes the fact that literacy and other basic skills are foundational for helping countries achieve education outcomes.
In all, let’s make deliberate efforts to promote literacy in our communities. The International Literacy Day is not just another international day. We need to extend our discussion on literacy beyond this day. In the end, we will discover that the hard talk about literacy is indeed hard.