An estimated 750 million youth and adults worldwide can neither read nor write. This is one of the many challenges that prompted UNESCO’s 40th General Conference. The agency’s Member States proposed a solution, “Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy,” on Nov. 15, 2019. This strategy’s grand objective is to extend UNESCO’s undivided support to all countries. A special focus will be on members of the Global Alliance for Literacy, the majority of whose populations show the highest literacy levels.
Strategic Priority Areas
The Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, this plan follows SDG 4, “Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
The strategy has four key priority areas:
- Support Member States in the development of strategies and national literacy policies and strategies. To achieve this, UNESCO will work hand-in-hand with the Member States to develop learning techniques. The techniques will have a comprehensive perspective and undergo integration into public systems.
- Aid the education needs of disadvantaged groups, such as women and girls. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population comprises women. Consequently, UNESCO’s strategy will focus on women and other specific populations that face disproportionate disadvantages. Indigenous peoples, refugees, immigrants, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities will also be a priority in the plan.
- Leverage digital technologies to increase access to education and improve learning outcomes. UNESCO will help the Member States fully exploit technological innovations — such as Artificial Intelligence, Open Education Resources, etc. — that can potentially transform their learning environments. To do this, UNESCO will reinforce partnerships with outstanding research institutions and private corporations.
- Monitor progress and assess literacy skills and programs people’s literacy skills. To assess progress with SDG 4.6.1 indicator, UNESCO will deploy data-based learning assessment systems and powerful tools like the Global Education Monitoring Report, among others.
Literacy Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic: Attainable or Impractical?
The Coronavirus pandemic has left education systems hanging by a thread and exposed the many cracks that existed even before the pandemic. In her opening statement of the UNESCO 2020 Global Webinar, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, encouraged nations to make literacy “a force of inclusion and resilience” as they strive to reconstruct and attain more sustainable development.
UNESCO conducted a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on literacy programs in August 2020. It revealed that out of a total of 49 adult literacy programs, more than 90% underwent suspension as a way to abide by coronavirus containment measures such as lockdowns.
In response to the coronavirus, UNESCO has developed the Global Education Coalition. So far, the coalition has helped over 70 countries to counter the effects that the pandemic has had on their education systems. This platform has made it possible for 82,000 teachers and 500,000 students in Senegal to carry on with their studies through the Ministry of Senegal’s “Ministry Distance Learning” platform. Furthermore, UNESCO has projected to add another 1.5 million learners and teachers through a partnership with Microsoft.
UNESCO has also assisted in creating educational resources, such as handouts, videos and guides for instructors and parents in Lebanon. These many programs have contributed to enhanced learning during these unprecedented times.
Not Easy but Possible
Despite the frailty that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, UNESCO’s Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy is thriving. The strategy is concrete proof that although the journey toward literacy is not a walk in the park, the end goal is still attainable. So long as nations are willing to push for it, literacy is possible all across the world, even during COVID-19.
– Mbabazi Divine