UNESCO awards International Literacy Prizes to Innovative Projects Boosting Literacy in Covid Times

UNESCO, WHO Urge Countries To Make Every School A Health-Promoting School-Brand Spur Nigeria
UNESCO, WHO Urge Countries To Make Every School A Health-Promoting School-Brand Spur Nigeria

The awards will be presented during a virtual International Conference entitled “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide

UNESCO has selected six outstanding literacy programmes from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Mexico and South Africa as winners of its International Literacy Prizes, awarded on the occasion of International Literacy Day (8 September). During the COVID crisis, these programmes continued to help students learn to read and write through accessible technologies.

“These programmes have literally changed the lives of thousands of children, young people, women and marginalised adults. Literacy empowers individuals and it expands people’s capabilities and freedom of choice.” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General

At least 773 million youth and adults globally still cannot read and write, and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills. There are more non-literate women than men, and women are also increasingly left behind in the digital environment. This situation is expected to worsen, as COVID-19 school disruptions have caused learning losses. 23.8 million additional children and youth worldwide may drop out or not have access to school in 2021 due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone.

The awards will be presented during a virtual International Conference entitled “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide,” which UNESCO will host on 8 and 9 September.

The online event will bring together representatives of governments, development partners, experts and educators to explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centred recovery, with a special focus on the interrelation between literacy and the digital skills that half of the world’s population still lacks.

A special session focusing on inclusive distance and digital learning will be held with the prizewinners on 9 September(1.30pm to 2.45pm CET).

The three awards of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for work contributing to mother language-based literacy development, sponsored by the Government of the Republic of Korea, will be awarded to:

  • ‘Broadcasting Bilingual Stories: Promoting interactive literacy programming in rural Guatemala’ of Limitless Horizons Ixil (LHI), Guatemala. LHI is a non-governmental organization that has been working to address gender disparities and improve educational outcomes in Chajul, Guatemala, since 2004. The programme’s objective is to promote literacy through distance learning for Maya Ixil youth, who are at risk of dropping out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization develops educational broadcasts providing inclusive digital literacy programming for Maya Ixil children and youth. The programme utilizes accessible technology such as radio and television and provides book-lending and academic support in a community library.


  • ‘Enabling the education of people with disabilities through technology-enabled inclusive learning material, with specific focus on Indian Sign Language based content’ of the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), India. NIOS is an autonomous organization under the Indian Ministry of Education, providing quality education to all through open and distance learning. It is one of the largest open schooling programmes in the world with a cumulative enrolment of millions of learners. Since its establishment in 2016, the programme has focused on the educational needs of persons with disabilities and other minority groups. It offers an inclusive environment, giving learners the flexibility to choose subjects they want to study. Learners are therefore not only able to enhance their academic skills, but can acquire vocational skills through courses of variable length. NIOS uses digital tools and local languages to help persons with disabilities and provides learners with Indian Sign Language-based content.


  • ‘Using digital technologies to promote children’s literature in South Africa’s indigenous languages’ of Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, South Africa. Puku is a non-governmental organization established in 2009 with the objective of promoting reading and book development to help all children, especially those living in the most economically deprived areas, have access to books in all South African languages. The programme conducts workshops and social media activities to train storytellers, writers, teachers, librarians, language practitioners, cultural and literary activists and academics in indigenous language communities, and enable them to teach children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Puku organized the first ever webinar series in indigenous languages within and between linguistic communities, through radio and social media, to promote the production of book catalogues in all indigenous languages of South Africa.

Each of the three UNESCO King Sejong prizewinners will receive a medal, a diploma and a cash prize of US$20.000.

The three awards of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, for work that contributes to functional literacy, leveraging technological environments, in support of adults in rural areas and out-of-school youth, supported by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, will be given to:

  • Building & Growing’ of Construyendo y Creciendo, Mexico. Founded in 2006, the non-profit organization provides people a second chance to obtain a quality, officially-recognized, and comprehensive education to people with low or no literacy skills, in particular construction workers and their communities. The organization’s mission is to promote literacy, including functional literacy, and support adult education. The ‘Building & Growing’ programme focuses on providing digital and inclusive literacy education at construction sites, and in mobile and distance classrooms, bringing the learning environment to learners. Through academic and personal development, as well as training, the programme tackles economic, social, and psychological barriers to education, and provides crucial digital skills.


  • Experience in organizing online literacy classes for rural areas in Egypt of Ain-Shams University, Egypt. Ain-Shams University was established in 1950, making it the third oldest university in Egypt. The University’s Society Service and Environment Development Department, which works on community development services to poor, marginalized, and needy villages and settlements. The project uses digital technology in literacy training to empower learners in rural areas of Egypt and participates in the National Literacy Project. It provides educational, economic, and social services and uses incentives and training programmes to encourage university students to join the project as literacy teachers. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an increased focus on technology and distance learning in the university’s literacy programmes, through the use of printed materials, television, text messages and online platforms such as YouTube.
  • ‘Functional literacy for vendors in Abidjan through the use of ICT’ of the Association of Literacy Teachers Who Use Information and Communications Technology’ (GA-TIC), Côte d’Ivoire. Created in 2017, the non-governmental organization specializes in capacity-building of functional literacy through digital technology for women vendors in Côte d’Ivoire. The objective of the programme is to empower beneficiaries, 95% of whom are women, and help them improve their reading, writing, and arithmetic skills in order to manage their income-generating activities better. Learning was adapted to individual needs in terms of content and timing through hybrid learning modality.

Each of the three UNESCO Confucius prizewinners will receive a medal, a diploma and a cash prize of US$30.000.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)