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Narrowing the digital divide is the key to literacy

Literacy is needed for progress in our society but despite progress in science and technology, literacy is still a challenge in many parts of the world including our country.


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  8 Sep 2021 4:32 AM GMT


Ranjan K Baruah

(With direct inputs from UN publication and feedback may be sent to

Literacy is needed for progress in our society but despite progress in science and technology, literacy is still a challenge in many parts of the world including our country. Global data is alarming as it says that 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 and due to pandemic 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.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults at an unprecedented scale. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionately affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults. Youth and adult literacy were absent in many initial national response plans, while numerous literacy programmes have been forced to halt their usual modes of operation.

We have seen innovations during the time of pandemic to connect and reach out to people via digital mode. A few popular terms are Google Meet, Zoom, etc. These platforms ensure that teaching and learning can be continued though there are challenges mostly due to poor digital connectivity. The digital divide has been an issue in poor and developing nations due to the lack of devices and connectivity.

The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Beyond its intrinsic importance as part of the right to education, literacy empowers individuals and improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value. It is also a driver for sustainable development. Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4. Literacy, therefore, is central to a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Like many other events, there is a day related to literacy which is observed on 8th September as International Literacy Day (ILD). This year the day will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centred recovery, with a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults. It will also explore what makes technology-enabled literacy learning inclusive and meaningful to leave no one behind. By doing so, ILD2021 will be an opportunity to re-imagine future literacy teaching and learning, within and beyond the context of the pandemic.

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 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 allowed to acquire them.

On 15 November 2019 at UNESCO's 40th General Conference in Paris, the Member States agreed to adopt a new UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy (2020-2025). The Strategy will facilitate UNESCO's targeted support to countries and populations that are facing the biggest literacy challenges in the world. The Strategy also focuses on gender equality and addresses the learning needs of marginalized peoples, including out-of-school youth, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples who are part of the 750 million adults around the world who lack basic literacy skills. The Strategy will also aim to strengthen and encourage cooperation among these countries to share best practices of promoting literacy from a lifelong learning perspective.

All of us can contribute towards ensuring literacy for all. Till recently we were focusing on literacy but it's time that we also focus on digital literacy and ensure that there is no digital divide. Apart from Government or International Agencies or Civil Society Institutions or Academic Institutions, everyone can contribute to enhancing literacy. ILD is an opportunity for us to address the issue and also to raise awareness and contribute towards achieving sustainable development goals.

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