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.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

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.

The Education Sector’s Response to the Pandemic

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!

Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: What Does the Future Hold?

UNESCO has set forth the following policy propositions for stakeholders in the educational sector, during this year’s plan for World Literacy Day:

1. Embrace diverse solutions for distance, face-to-face and hybrid learning.
2. Integrate learning of reading and writing skills with digital skills.
3. Invest in technology-enabled learning methods.
4. Increase accessibility to technology-enabled literacy programs.
5. Implement good governance and partnerships for technology-enabled learning.
6. Promote youth and adult literacy.
7. Coordinate and sustain collective support, advocacy and knowledge management.

As is evident, the Ed-Tech sector is playing a pivotal role in the road to recovery for literacy in a post-pandemic world.

In keeping with UNESCO’s propositions, Nearpeer also took the initiative to make all of its courses free, in the Summer of 2020, and since then has continued to expand its capacity, improve online teaching resources and content, and offer much greater accessibility and affordability for students than ever before available in Pakistan.

With over 6 years of experience in distance learning methods, Nearpeer has been able to provide quality teaching to over 120,000 students, of which 35% hail from remote regions in Pakistan, with little to no access to traditional schooling. This has been accompanied by the dispensation of over $100,000 in need-based scholarships, as well.

Our belief in the viability of online teaching predates the COVID-19 pandemic by several years, as does our continued investment in the relevant technologies and teacher training. Alongside the Pakistan government, and the millions of disenfranchised students and teachers, Nearpeer seeks to play its part in bridging the digital divide, and inculcating a love for self-learning within the hearts of all its students.