COVID-19: A wake-up call to invest in literacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the least advantaged the hardest and highlights the harsh reality of educational inequality. As we look to rebuild, we must ensure that the global literacy challenge is finally and decisively met, writes Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development.

© Princess Laurentien

COVID-19 has disrupted education worldwide in an unprecedented way. Millions of students have not been able to continue learning in schools, universities, vocational training institutions and adult learning programmes. Many governments responded to the pressing need to provide school children with learning possibilities via online and distance learning. Virtual lessons were adopted, home learning materials distributed and education provided through TV and radio or in open air spaces. These efforts were essential and undeniably very challenging for many governments, teachers and students alike as it demanded a reshuffling not only of delivery mechanisms but also of roles and responsibilities.

The crisis also shows us, with a frightening clarity, what consequences a lack of basic literacy skills can have. Some 773 million youth and adults globally lack basic levels of literacy and numeracy, two-thirds of them female. Most of these youth and adults face multiple disadvantages. They are often unable to acquire decent jobs, suffer from hunger and bad health, cannot make informed choices, and are excluded from social interaction and full participation in society. Continue reading

Multilingualism: The language of sustainable development

In a world increasingly globalized, multilingualism is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Supported by mother tongue-based multilingual education, linguistic diversity brings a number of benefits to learners but also to society as a whole. Growing evidence suggests that multilingualism can effectively contribute to sustainable development and to peace, argues David Atchoarena

© UNESCO/Monkatan Suvarnatap

Since the year 2000, the world has been celebrating International Mother Language Day on 21 February. Linguistic diversity is an invaluable part of the heritage of humanity. About 7,000 languages are spoken around the world. Yet, 2,680 of them are in danger of disappearing, and many more are already gone.

In that context, offering education and learning opportunities in the mother tongue is essential to transmitting and preserving traditional knowledge and culture in a sustainable way. Children, youth and adults require learning opportunities that are relevant to their lives and needs. This also includes having access to an education in their own language. Evidence shows that such provision contributes to improving learning and developing confidence and self-esteem. Continue reading