International Literacy Day – 8 September was proclaimed as the International Literacy Day by UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 17, 1965. It was first celebrated on 1966. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies, now celebrations take place all around the world.
This annual celebration started following a recommendation of the World Conference of Minister of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy that met in Tehran in September 1965. The Conference recommended that 8 September, the date of the inauguration of the Conference, be proclaimed International Literacy Day and be observed worldwide. “Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable,” UNESCO DirectorGeneral said in his message on the occasion of international Literacy Day 2006. According to UNESCO, 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. Literacy in SCO member States: The SCO region comprises almost half of the World’s population; most of the population is young, which has high literacy rate. Both for youth (15-24 years) and adult (15> years) literacy rates are high, more than 97% in Russia, China and 4 Central Asian member States of the SCO, which could be attributed to “compulsory school education” policy in these countries. In India and Pakistan, there is a steady and significant increase in youth and adult literacy rate due to active enrolment of children to schools in the last few decades. Governments in these countries are making active efforts through literacy campaigns and programmes to bridge the gap to ensure that all youth and most adults achieve literacy. Realising the importance of education in development of human potential, and consequently building a better society, the SCO member States signed an Agreement on Cooperation in Education in 2006, which aims to develop mutually beneficial cooperation, including by exchange information and experience of education reforms undertaken by them. Minsters of Education of the member States of the SCO meet regularly to review its implementation as well as guide future trajectory of cooperation. The SCO member States attach great importance to the development of youth cooperation aimed at promoting the physical, mental and spiritual development of the young generation and involving them in large-scale joint development plans. Thus, following the SCO summit in Qingdao in 2018, the heads of state adopted a Joint appeal to young people and a Program of actions for its implementation, which are aimed at actively involving young people in creating a decent future, promoting the physical, mental and spiritual development of the younger generation. These documents emphasize the critical importance of providing favorable socio-economic conditions, opportunities for education, self-expression, creative development and employment for young people. Young people with their energy, innovative and bold ideas are an important support for the further development of the SCO in various aspects of its activities. The Organization will continue to develop the youth potential and deepen interaction within the framework of youth policy. The SCO Youth Council, established in 2009, is responsible for implementing policy in this area. Its goal is to promote cooperation and facilitate sharing of experience of representatives of younger generation of the SCO countries in various areas of personality development, which could ensure the fundamental continuity of the SCO policy and contribute to the implementation of its historical mission.
In addition, the project “Youth Chart of the SCO” is successfully implemented, and the international festivals “Student spring of the SCO and BRICS countries” are held annually. These events range from model meetings of the SCO to intellectual competitions “Leader of the XXI century”, as well as open days, conferences and round tables. The SCO University, which is a network of universities in the SCO countries, acts as a reliable platform for the development of all forms of education in the SCO space. Digital Literacy: The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well on its way, where artificial intelligence and the internet of things connect everything from doorbells to kitchen appliances. Influence of social media, technology, and online resources is massive. With the increased importance of technology in society, digital literacy is gaining recognition as the most valuable tool for lifelong learning. Digital literacy refers to the wide range of skills, which are necessary to emerge successful and adapt to the digital world. It is the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies for participation in economic and social life.
There is a great need for educating the power of digital medium to students can play a vital role in defining their ability to succeed both in academic and personal life. It also helps them as an individual to be responsible for how they use technology to interact with the world. When students are digitally literate, they become thoughtful consumers of digital content, effective and collaborative creators of digital content, and problem-solvers who are prepared to join the workforce and make social contributions to their communities For adults, the ever evolving tech world can either help them succeed or hold them back. They need to constantly upgrade their digital skills in the fast evolving employment space aided by technology. Studies have shown that digital literacy can be a boon for older persons, particularly for those who live alone, live away from their children/grandchildren, live with mobility constraints and want to live independently in old age. It not only makes their life smooth, comfortable and easier but also keeps them in the mainstream of society. According to a European Commission report published in 2017, 44% of Europeans aged 16-74 do not have basic skills with electronic devices. This means that even in the most developed countries, almost half of the population does not have knowledge of digital technologies. It also shows how poorly prepared the world is for the digital revolution! Recognizing the importance of the digital revolution and the growing gap in the field of digitalization in the world, the SCO countries at the Bishkek SCO summit in 2019 adopted the Concept of Cooperation of the Vember States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the field of Digitalization and Information and Communication Technologies – a kind of guide to the modern technological revolution in the SCO countries.
The implementation of the ideas outlined in the Concept will allow developing advanced technologies and applying them in the SCO countries. There is no doubt that the implementation of the document will increase the level of digital literacy in the SCO countries, where the majority of the population is young and actively developing. Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of life skills.
There is a pressing need to make our societies adequately digitally literate, thereby enabling them with essential life skills and contributing to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable. COVID-19: 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 Covid-19 crisis has been a stark reminder of the existing gap between policy discourse and reality: a gap that already existed in the preCOVID-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. According to UNESCO, 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. Non-literate youth and adults will most likely be the hardest hit by educational, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
This pandemic shows us the urgency of investing in literacy for everyone – young and old. There is a need to ensure the continuity of learning, improved provision, and enhanced lifelong learning systems and capacities. There is also a need to invest in open and distance learning opportunities as well as assist teachers in finding new ways to reach out to those lacking basic literacy skills. Despite the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world. The Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.6, by 2030, aims to achieve literacy and numeracy for all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women.
Ensuring continuity of learning, especially in the difficult times like COVID-19 pandemic would be critical in achieving the Target. There is also a need to adapt our societies to emerging challenges of technology by digital literacy.
The writer is the Secretary General of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)