International Literacy Day 2021 puts literacy and digital skills at the heart of recovery from Covid

“Education is a right. And literacy is the foundation of all learning. It is discovery and empowerment. It expands choices and freedoms, ”said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Ms. Stefania Giannini, in her opening remarks at UNESCO’s International Online Conference on“ Literacy for a people-centered recovery: bridging the digital divide ”, held September 8-9, 2021 to celebrate International Literacy Day (ILL).

The two-day online conference brought together over 600 participants, including Ms. Koumbou Boly Barry, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, HE Ms. Maria Victoria Angulo, Minister of National Education, Colombia, HE Mr. Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, Minister of Education, Portugal, Mr. Mamadou Binaté, Director of Cabinet at the Ministry of National Education and Literacy, Côte d’Ivoire, as well as representatives of governments, development partners, experts, educators and learners around the world.

Its special session on the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes welcomed the six 2021 laureates from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Mexico and South Africa, as well as the ambassadors the permanent delegations of the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China. who support the Prizes as well as Mr. John Benseman, President of the International Jury 2021.

Participants explored how literacy could help build a solid foundation for a people-centered recovery and reflected on what would make policies and programs more inclusive and relevant to promote literacy, which in society today also includes digital skills. The discussion highlighted the widening digital divide and other forms of inequality caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference was also an opportunity to reimagine the teaching and learning of literacy in our increasingly digital society.

The importance of literacy within the framework of the right to education was reaffirmed by Ms. Giannini, Ms. Barry and Mr. Borhene Chakroun, Director of the Division of Lifelong Learning Policies and Systems at UNESCO. They also recognized that literacy and education provide other rights. The stories of Gogo, a 98-year-old primary school student from Kenya, and Ms. Hassina Sherjan, founder and CEO of Aid Afghanistan for Education, Afghanistan, showed how realizing the right to literacy can transform the lives of people. people. Speaking about past learners of her literacy programs, Ms. Sherjan said, “Promoting literacy is one of the solutions to the problems in Afghanistan. Education is something that no one can take away from them. Literacy is the weapon with which they can protect themselves and claim the rights with which they were born ”.

The conference highlighted the need to promote digital skills as part of literacy in today’s increasingly digital society. The rapid shift to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in technology-based literacy learning, which has generated an increased demand for digital skills. This was also highlighted by an analysis of trends in nominations for the 2021 UNESCO International Literacy Prizes. Country examples in Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Portugal and Morocco have shown how they are made strides in promoting digital skills and literacy during and before the pandemic, as well as the Laureates and the Deutsche Volkshochschul-Verband (DVV) Literacy Program for Refugees and Migrants.

Several participants underlined the persistence of the digital divide, for which it is necessary to reduce the skills gaps, as well as to further improve the infrastructure, affordability of digital devices, applications and networks, as well as security measures. and security.

An important message was the centrality of literacy for a human-centered recovery after the COVID-19 crisis. “We are no longer in emergency mode but rather adapting to a new reality of work, life and of course learning, with an unprecedented dependence on technology. We learn the ropes of resilience to face uncertainty and shape a more sustainable and just future, a future that leaves no one behind. This is only possible by putting people at the center and establishing the right relationship with technology, ”said Ms. Giannini.

The conference also showed how working together, across sectors, constituencies, disciplines and geographic boundaries, can make a difference in solving multi-faceted literacy challenges, with examples of successful multi-stakeholder partnerships such as the Learning Coin program for marginalized and out of school children and youth in Thailand, the European Basic Skills Network (EBSN) and the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy through Learning throughout life.

Regarding the future of literacy learning and teaching, literacy for deep reading as well as analytical and critical thinking was highlighted. Basic literacy skills to simply code, decode and understand simple texts are not enough for people to navigate life, work and learning in our scientifically and technologically advanced societies. Ms Maryanne Wolf, UCLA, United States of America, stressed the importance of ‘deep reading skills’, where understanding and appropriate use of print and digital media, as well as empathy, are crucial because they can influence the learning of a writing system and the development of the brain in different ways.

Based on the results of the Program for International Student Assessment 2018, Mr Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD highlighted a change in the direction of literacy over the two decades, going from if we can read and what we can read to how we read. Less than half of 15-year-olds in OECD countries (47%) are able to distinguish fact from opinion in text. Noting the progress in the development of digital skills, he pointed out that disparities in access to cultural capital such as books have widened between privileged and disadvantaged students.

Mr Sobhi Tawil, Director of the Future of Learning and Innovation team at UNESCO said that literacy of the future is not just a tool for “learning to learn”. To adapt to rapid social transformations and shape our socially just and ecologically sustainable futures, it must be a tool to unlearn what is perpetuated in our society, such as discrimination, exclusion and unsustainable behaviors.

Ms Amna Habiba, representative of the UNESCO youth community in Pakistan, said that the future of technology can promise us a lot, but “most importantly, free and accessible learning opportunities that pave the way for technological empowerment in developing countries ”.

Mr. Chakroun delivered his closing remarks recalling the essential role that literacy plays in human-centered recovery. “Any recovery effort must be about human rights, it is about recognizing the right to education, the right to lifelong learning and the right to literacy.”

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