Since its inception in 1967, World Literacy Day has been celebrated across the world, on September 8, as a reminder of the importance of moving towards a more literate society, with education being deemed a fundamental human right by the United Nations.
Pakistan followed suit in 2010, with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan guaranteeing the right to free education for all persons aged 5-16.
However, with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging on, this year’s iteration of the annual celebration, is as much a reminder of the importance of education, as it is of the massive damage incurred by the education sector over the past 2 years.
In light of this crisis of teaching, UNESCO has decided on “Literacy for a Human-Centered Recovery: Narrowing the Digital Divide”, as the theme for this year's celebration and events. While the battle against the pandemic rages on at hospitals, vaccination centers and research labs, it is crucial to mitigate the disruption in the learning of over 1.6 billion students across the globe.
The impact of Covid-19 has gone beyond currently enrolled students as well, in terms of amplifying issues of accessibility to learning opportunities for over 773 Million non-literate persons worldwide. Moreover, the forced transition to distance learning methods, exposed the huge gap in viable technologies, infrastructure, teacher training and course design, that severely hampered its efficacy.
In the face of such a cataclysmic event, which even the developed world is struggling to react to, it is essential that Pakistan invests heavily in building viable alternatives to conventional in-person teaching. For the digital divide to indeed be narrowed, in accordance with the theme of World Literacy Day, all key stakeholders, including students, teachers, the government and the private tech sector must play their part.
Alongside increasing internet penetration and promoting inclusive policies of internet governance, development of educational technologies to alter present teaching methods is the only way forward. There is no realistic end in sight for the pandemic, so we must adapt!
UNESCO has set forth the following policy propositions for stakeholders in the educational sector, during this year’s plan for World Literacy Day: