In a world where around 773 million young people and adults are still lacking basic literacy skills (UIS), the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of its lockdown are only magnifying the already existing literacy challenges.
In line with this year’s theme of the upcoming International Literacy Day and UNESCO International Literacy Prizes, ‘Literacy teaching and learning during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond’, we are looking into how former Prizes laureates have been coping with the unforeseen crisis.
This is the first story in the series of two where we follow testimonies from Indonesia, Colombia, Jordan and DRC on how the laureates ensure that their literacy programmes continue to reaching the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic.
Reading rhymes with mental health benefits and resilience in Jordan
The We Love Reading (WLR) programme from Jordan received the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize in 2017, and since then, it has gone on reaching children in 55 countries around the world.
WLR is a grassroots community Programme which prides itself to fostering the love of reading among children and youth; empowering youth and adults to become change makers through reading aloud in their communities; and creating resilience among children, youth and adults through reading.
And rightfully so, the WLR programme has proven to reduce stress and anxiety in the past and boosting mental health and resilience among vulnerable populations such as refugees or people with low socioeconomic status.
The programme aims to tackle the fact that the majority of children around the world don’t read for fun. It builds on the logic that without reading for pleasure, children won’t reap the real benefits of reading, such as widening their imagination, increasing their vocabulary, heightening their empathy, confidence and resilience.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the programme launched a specific ‘We Love Reading plan for Corona’.
“The plan for Corona is about local volunteers reading aloud to children in their neighborhoods or at home in the context of COVID-19. Reading aloud is a way to motivate them to love reading and in this way become lifelong learners,” explains Ms Rana Dajani, the Founder of We Love Reading.
“All these benefits become especially important when education is compromised. Reading for pleasure becomes a placeholder until learning goes back to normal. Maybe it is the only way of learning during this crisis,” says Ms Dajani.
Other initiatives of the programme during the COVID-19 crisis have included posting free audio and textbooks online in English and Arabic; recordings of WLR ambassadors reading stories aloud, and WLR ambassadors posting inspiring social media messages from around the world to testify how they are coping and dealing with the crisis.
© We Love Reading
Poverty, homelessness and sexual violence against women are the harsh costs of the pandemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The ‘Collectif Alpha Ujuvi’ (CAU) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was awarded the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy in 2011 for its programme ‘Literacy for the peaceful coexistence of communities and good governance’.
The programme’s objective was to train trainers in literacy techniques, inform communities about illiteracy, elaborate coordination among literacy centers, and supervise and evaluate their work.
The province in North Kivu has suffered long-term political instability and massive displacement of populations. This led to permanent insecurity and a lack of peace for the population. Under the direction of Ms Sister Deodata Bunzigiye, the programme used literacy to prevent and resolve tensions and conflicts among individuals and communities in the region. Peace huts combined with literacy learning brought more security to the politically unstable communities.
Since receiving the Prize in 2011, the CAU invested the Prize money in a large field which they named “AZINA – Confucius” or “Confucius’ treasure”. It provided and still provides room for the schooling of several poor and vulnerable children in the region, who have either dropped out of school before or never attended any learning.
However, the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences have put the children and the programme in a vulnerable position.
“Our students who have already been reintegrated, risk dropping out of school again,” says Ms Sister Deodata Bunzigiye, Executive Secretary of the Alpha Ujuvi Collective.
“One of the major challenges is that of confinement. It is followed by the problem of immense poverty in a post-conflict situation. The vast majority of households with no stable economy live from day to day. We see that domestic violence is becoming more frequent, and the closure of schools increases the rate of homelessness and sexual exploitation of young girls. We are observing a huge challenge with an increased number of children, particularly underage girls, living on the streets of the city of Goma,” says Ms Bunzigiye.
To cope with and adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, the CAU has taken numerous measures to protect the children during the pandemic and continue literacy learning in other forms.
“With the support of one of our partners, our corrective schools use books that make homework at home possible. The challenge remains for those who are in the streets,” she says.
As part of the fight against the spreading of the Corona virus, the CAU supervises 30 underage girls living in the streets of the city of Goma. The young girls are accompanied on medical and psychosocial levels, with the goal to later being inserted later in the CUA’s Furahini school recovery center.
“For the literacy groups, we follow the preventive and protective measures encouraged by the Congolese government, such as regular hand washing, use of disinfectants, mufflers etc., and we divide the classes in half to at most 15 learners,” says Ms Bunzigiye.
The CAU also manages to keep in touch with its learners, especially those who prepare their public defenses within the framework of the "Mupaka Shamba letu" project in partnership with Alert International.
The Provincial Government in partnership with the CAU, has studied how to further harness the benefits of the "Azina - Confucius" field on an educational, social and development level. A multidisciplinary center with a literacy circle and trade center for young people is planned, but the project is currently in the start-up phase.
“We now have to think about including preventive and protective strategies to limit the spreading of the virus,” says Ms Bunzigiye.
© Collectif Alpha Ujuvi
This year’s International Literacy Day and UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be looking into the theme of literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. The five new Prizes laureates will be announced around International Literacy Day, 8 September 2020.
The two UNESCO International Literacy Prizes are: The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, Established in 1989, with the support of the Government of the Republic of Korea, which gives special consideration to the development and use of mother-tongue literacy education and training. And the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, established in 2005 with the support of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, which is dedicated to promoting literacy amongst adults in rural areas and out-of-school youth, particularly girls and women.