Kofi Anan once said, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.”
Literacy is generally defined as the ability to read and write and to others the foundation of civilization. Literacy allows us to understand and perceive the world as we know it today. It’s in other words the genesis of learning and understanding. Without literacy, one is neither able to read or write hence oblivious to knowledge.
Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing, and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich, and fast-changing world.
Like always, this year’s literacy day will be celebrated on 8th September under the theme “Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”.
For years now, literacy has been mostly acquired from school in a learning environment. Children as young as three years have been enrolled in school to learn how to read the alphabet and write at an early stage.
This newly acquired skill allows them to think and creatively craft their own future whilst making an immense contribution to the development of the country. The COVID-19 times have however distorted this long-standing tradition at an unprecedented scale. In our country Uganda the COVID-19 crisis saw the closure and phased reopening of schools while kindergartens / early learning centres until now face indefinite closure until further notice.
Based on our education system, it is mostly during kindergarten and lower primary that a child is able to acquire basic literacy skills. There is a positive link between early childhood learning and the future holistic development of a child.
In Uganda children aged three to five years are expected to be enrolled in pre-school such that by the age of six they proceed to primary one. Unfortunately, due to the new normal, these children are stuck at home awaiting the reopening of kindergartens or preparing to join primary one with a fresh blank mind. With fewer children having the ability to read/ write, this results in an exclusion of low-literate and low-skilled youth and adults from full participation in their communities and societies.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOs) report, Uganda’s literacy rate as of 2018 was 76.53%. Although there has been an increase in the literacy rate in the country, the remaining 23.47% is still significant and worth our attention. Globally, however, at least 773 million youth and adults still cannot read and write and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills.
According to UNESCO, the COVID 19 crisis has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionally affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults.
The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4.
Reflecting back to Kofi Anan’s saying, we need literacy to empower individuals and improve their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value.
Therefore, hope is investing in the early years of education not only to serve the children but also to developing human capital. Hope is ensuring the continuity of learning, including distance learning, often in combination with in-person learning for young children who are currently seated at home. Hope is availing literacy learning materials and opportunities to our communities.
Last but not least, hope is bridging the persistent digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the ability to engage with technology, as well as disparities in other services such as access to electricity, which has limited learning options.
Let’s build hope by promoting literacy among our population.
The writer is the Publicity officer
River Flow International-Science Teachers Initiative