International Literacy Day : Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond

Ranjan K Baruah
We have made progress in recent years when it comes to literacy. Now more and more people are literate. There may not be formal education everywhere but people can read and write basic things except few instances where literacy is too low. The interesting fact is that globally, 773 million adults and young people lack basic literacy skills, and more than 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. These facts may not seem to be true but this is the current global data.
When we are talking about basic literacy but we must talk about digital literacy too. The recent pandemic has compelled us to be digitally literate too for getting many services. . The recent COVID-19 crisis has been a magnifier of existing literacy challenges, deeply affecting schooling and lifelong learning opportunities including for youth and adults with no or low literacy skills. During the initial phase of the pandemic, schools were closed down in more than 190 countries, disrupting the education of 91 per cent of the world’s student population of 1.6 billion at its peak.  Schools and other academic institutions are still closed in many parts including our country.
The COVID-19 pandemic also affected around 63 million primary and secondary teachers around the world. There is no other option but distance learning through online mode is the only way to continue education for the students and other learners. We have seen how education is imparted through various platforms like Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex Meet or even popular Whatsapp .
At the same time, in many places, the COVID-19 crisis has shed light on the unpreparedness of infrastructure, education systems, programmes, and people, including policy-makers, educators and professionals, families, and learners themselves, for ensuring the continuity of teaching and learning in such a situation. The absence of good online infrastructure or gadgets has affected many students during pandemic. Students from urban areas are connected but many rural areas have faced challenges. The digital divide has added on promoting literacy and education amongst rural people.
In many countries, adult literacy and education were absent in initial education response plans, and numerous adult literacy programmes that did exist in the pre-COVID-19 crisis era have been suspended. This means that many youth and adults with no or low literacy skills, who tend to face multiple disadvantages, have had limited access to life-saving information and remote learning opportunities and/or are at higher risk of losing livelihoods. In terms of the digital divide, for instance, globally, nearly half of the world population (51.2%), including many non-literate adults, did not have access to proper internet or even devices.
Mobile phone subscription per 100 people was 67.5 in low human development countries, while the corresponding figure exceeds 90 per cent in high (113.6%) and middle (91.9%) human development countries. The COVID-19 crisis, therefore, has been a stark reminder of the large gap between adult literacy policy discourse and the ground reality that already existed in the pre-COVID-19 era. In this context, there is the emerging need to revisit literacy teaching and learning for youth and adults, as well as the role of educators
8th of September was proclaimed International Literacy Day ( ILD)  by UNESCO in 1966 to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies. This year ILD has focused on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies. The theme highlights literacy learning in a lifelong learning perspective, and therefore, mainly focuses on youth and adults. ILD provides an opportunity to reflect on and discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond.
The key issues that need to be addressed are teachers/educators and their roles. If they are motivated or passionate, trained adequately and consistently, guaranteed decent working conditions, satisfactorily remunerated, and provided career prospects, youth and adult literacy programmes can be more successful and lead to better learning and development outcomes. Educators and teachers have an important role to play in learning lessons from the COVID-19 crisis and reimagining effective teaching and learning.
The COVID-19 crisis has been also a reminder of the educators’ catalytic role in generating the transformative power of literacy for people’s empowerment, social transformation, and the betterment of humanity and the planet. Government has different programmes to promote literacy among its citizens. The recent pandemic has also brought opportunity for innovation in learning and teaching. It is up to us how we are going to use the situation and spread literacy amongst all.
 (With direct inputs from UNESCO publication and feedback may be sent to [email protected])