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Celebrating International Literacy Day

Sept, 8 2020

On September 8, 2020 we will observe International Literacy Day. With much of the world continuing to reel from the crisis brought by the global pandemic, literacy efforts are facing setbacks. This is especially true in rural areas in East Africa where the gap between policy and reality is stark. Wide scale business closures are causing economic anxiety and school closures are leaving students to face an uncertain future. 

This year’s International Literacy Day will have the responsibility of reimagining education and exploring various means of supporting not only students, but also educators in spreading literacy.

What is International Literacy Day? 

Proclaimed by UNESCO in 1966, International Literacy Day is tasked with bringing focus to the efforts of building more literate societies. One of the goals in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promotes universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives. To meet this goal, UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 targets to have universal access to education for all youth, thus increasing literacy and numeracy globally. However, the current pandemic, which has paralyzed the progress of education, has caused a crisis in the efforts to spread literacy.

To mitigate the challenges faced by students and educators, International Literacy Day 2020 will focus on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” with emphasis on the role of educators and reimagining pedagogies. The crisis has unmasked the shortcomings of the existing systems of instruction that are leaving those with insufficient literacy skills and with limited access to technology behind. This year’s International Literacy Day will explore the impact of the pandemic on literacy educators, how to better position learning in global and national responses, and discuss strategies in strengthening literacy beyond the crisis by formulating policies and systems that support educators. 

With limited resources, many educational programs have been suspended because of the crisis, leaving many within the vulnerable communities reeling to catch up. Educators are responding to this unprecedented crisis by using educational programs being broadcasted on television and radio, which are often insufficient and cannot be accessed by some students. In some places, they are conducting open air classrooms to keep the students on track with their curriculums. The pandemic has made it clear that any recovery and resilience-building effort has to include robust programs with built-in digital literacy and access. 

Asante Africa’s Literacy Efforts in East Africa

Asante Africa Foundation is committed to educating and empowering the next generation of change agents and one of the cornerstones of our integrated programs is the Accelerated Learning in the classroom Program. This program includes intensive teacher training, learner-centered educational model, and the use of digital and low-cost resources. Since this program’s implementation, nearly 93% of participating teachers in East Africa successfully use the internet as a teaching resource. Efficient use of resources and increased teacher training has resulted in a productive student body, with increased confidence and a higher level of critical thinking and problem solving skills. 

Literacy in Uganda – Story of a Teacher

Asaba is a young Ugandan educator who teaches Chemistry and Agriculture. Although his school is not equipped with a lot of technology, they are gifted with enough agricultural land, where students get lots of hands-on learning experience. With the necessary textbooks and laboratory equipment, Asaba is able to give his students practical understanding of the subjects. Asaba credits Asante Africa with training his students to become leaders and entrepreneurs through their incubator programs and LEI Summits. Much to his gratification, Asaba has noticed that many of his agriculture students, with proper encouragement and training, have implemented their ideas and started their own income generating projects and businesses. 

Noticing the need for change in teaching methodologies, the Ugandan government is implementing a new curriculum in school that places emphasis on skill building. Asaba believes that the new system of teaching that focuses on the practical will inculcate students with marketable skills for jobs. Still being integrated into schools, the spread of the global pandemic has impeded the progress of the new curriculum. 

Since schools in Uganda have been closed since March, when students were adjusting to their new school year, it will be difficult to complete the necessary curriculum by what is left of the school year. The government is helping teachers by broadcasting lessons on television and radios. However, in a community that has limited digital resources, these measures are falling short. Students that do have technologies have to compete with other family members for access to TV or smartphones.

According to Asaba, many of his students have lost their educational momentum, some have started businesses and don’t plan to return to school. Some young girls have been forced into early marriage or have become pregnant. As the economic situation worsens from the pandemic, more and more young people are giving up school and finding small jobs to support their families. 

To curb this attrition, Asante Africa Foundation is engaged in distributing the “Youth Essential Package,” that provides students and their families with necessary food, hygiene, and educational materials to relieve some of the economic stresses. Regional leaders are making sure that students have access to smartphones and other gadgets, setting up WhatsApp channels for emotional and educational support. Asaba sees his students, with access to phones, joining e-learning groups on WhatsApp and other platforms, attending government lessons on TVs and radios, and forming study groups in their local communities and inviting teachers to oversee their learning. Witnessing the determination and tenacity of his students to learn, Asaba feels hopeful for the future beyond the pandemic. 

Help Spread Literacy

Finding a new normal during this stressful time has been challenging for all, especially for children who are grappling with online learning. For students in East Africa, this pandemic has disrupted their education and left them with limited means to achieve their goals. 

  • Learn about Asante Africa Foundation’s interconnected programs and our commitment to spreading literacy and transforming the world.

  • To help in our continued progress towards youth education and self-sufficiency, please donate a “Youth Essentials Kit,” which would help a student successfully navigate this pandemic. 

 

Written by Sumathi Ramanath