Woman points with a ruler at a black board displaying letters of the alphabet.
One of three adult literacy classrooms in Gao, Mali constructed and equipped by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Photo:UN Photo/Harandane Dicko

Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond

International Literacy Day 2020 focuses 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. The recent Covid-19 crisis has been a stark reminder of the existing gap between policy discourse and reality: a gap that already existed in the pre-COVID-19 era and negatively affects the learning of youth and adults, who have no or low literacy skills, and therefore, tend to face multiple disadvantages. During COVID-19, in many countries, adult literacy programmes were absent in the initial education response plans, so most adult literacy programmes that did exist were suspended, with just a few courses continuing virtually, through TV and radio, or in open air spaces.  What is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on youth and adult literacy educators and teaching and learning? What are the lessons learnt? How can we effectively position youth and adult literacy learning in global and national responses and in strategies for the recovery and resilience-building phase? 

By exploring these questions, International Literacy Day 2020 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 Day will also give an opportunity to analyse the role of educators, as well as formulate effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support educators and learning. 

Online Events

The global celebrations of International Literacy Day on 8 September 2020 will be composed of two virtual meetings:

  • Meeting on ‘Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond: the role of educators and changing pedagogies’ (13:30-15:30 in Paris time)
  • Meeting on the Laureates of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2020 (16:00-17:00 in Paris time).

Both meetings will be accessible by registering through Zoom.

10 targets for education… with Elyx!

Ensuring that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy is one of the ten targets for SDG 4: Education. Join Elyx, the UN's first digital ambassador, to discover how to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

Background

The 8th of September was proclaimed International Literacy Day 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. The issue of literacy is a key component of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN's Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by world leaders in September 2015, promotes universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives. Sustainable Development Goal 4 has as one of its targets ensuring all young people achieve literacy and numeracy and that adults, who lack these skills are given the opportunity to acquire them.

Did you know?

  • 773 million adults and young people lack basic literacy skills;
  • 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics;
  • During the initial phase of the pandemic, schools were closed disrupting the education of 62.3 per cent of the world’s student population of 1.09 billion;
  • Adult literacy and education were absent in initial education response plans, therefore many youth and adults with no or low literacy skills have had limited access to life-saving information.
A woman wearing a facemask stands in front of adults also wearing facemasks and sitting at desks while keeping social distance.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdown magnify existing literacy challenges. This is the first story from a two-part series following testimonies from Indonesia, Colombia, Jordan and DRC on how UNESCO Literacy Prizes laureates ensure that their literacy programmes continue to reach the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be looking into literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Large conference room with a stage with a row of flags in the background and the UNESCO emblem.

The new five-year UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy (2020-2025) has four strategic priority areas:

  • Developing national literacy policies and strategies;
  • Addressing the learning needs of disadvantaged groups, particularly women and girls;
  • Leveraging digital technologies to expand access and improve learning outcomes;
  • Monitoring progress and assessing literacy skills and programmes.
A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.