The theme of International Literacy Day 2018 is: `Literacy and Skills Development'. September 8th was proclaimed as International Literacy Day (ILD) at the 14th session of UNESCO's General Conference on 26 October 1966.
Since 1967, the Day is celebrated annually around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.
International Literacy Day 2018 is being observed through: (i) a global event, including an award ceremony of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes; (ii) regional and country events; and (iii) celebrations in a virtual space.
This year's theme focuses on youth and adults within the lifelong learning framework, the effective linkages between literacy and skills. For International Literacy Day 2018, 'skills' means knowledge, skills and competencies required for employment, careers, and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable skills and digital skills.
UNESCO Concept Note
According to the concept note provided by UNESCO on the Day, the state of youth and adult literacy and skills, which were relatively neglected among the six 'Education for All' (EFA) goals pursued between 2000 and 2015, is calling for stronger policy attention.
Globally, steady progress has been made in literacy with the increase in the adult literacy rate (15+ years) from 81% in 2000 to 86% in 2016. Yet, the world is still home to at least 750 million adults, including 102 million young people (15-24 years old), who lack basic literacy skills. Moreover, six out of ten children and adolescents (617 million) are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.
If no action is taken, many of the estimated 267 million out-of-school children and young people will be part of the future illiterate adult populations. This lack of literacy skills is also affecting TVET learners. UNESCO notes that many young people entering apprenticeships lack the literacy skills needed to succeed.
Recent studies by the OECD highlight the lack of literacy skills as an impediment for fully benefiting from TVET and work-based learning programs.' The concept note also mentions that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have generated new impetus for collective efforts to address skills challenges and skills mismatch as universal issues.
The Day 2018 aims at providing renewed impetus for collective efforts for making meaningful connections between literacy and technical and vocational education and training through programs, policies, systems and governance. It will do so by recalling lessons from the past decades and reflecting on the main features of effective integrated approaches emerging in the current context.
The expected outputs mentioned in the note in the main are : (a) a review of international trends in combining literacy learning and skills development produced and disseminated as an outcome of the celebrations of ILD 2018. (b) a community of practice on literacy and skills development enhanced.
Message from UNESCO DG
The new UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay who has replaced Ms Irina Bokova, quotes Frederick Douglass, an emancipated black American slave in the nineteenth century, champion of the abolitionist cause and author of several books, which reads : 'Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.'
She says, 'This call for emancipation through reading, and more generally by mastering basic skills-literacy and numeracy-has universal scope. Literacy is the first step towards freedom, towards liberation form social and economic constraints. It is the prerequisite for development, both individual and collective.
It reduces poverty and inequality, creates wealth, and helps to eradicate problems of nutrition and public health'. Ms. Audrey Azoulay further says, `A new challenge is now being added to this a world in flux, where the pace of technological innovation is continuously accelerating.
In order to find a place in society, get a job, and respond to social, economic and environmental challenges, traditional literacy and numeracy skills are no longer enough, new skills, including in information and communication technology, are becoming increasingly necessary.'
Cambodia's Learning While Earning Program
Burdened by family, social and economic obligations, many women working in factories in Cambodia have had to either forgo basic education opportunities or never had a chance to enroll in the first place.
The 2013 report by Ministry of Planning on Women and Migration in Cambodia showed that 85 per cent of the 605,000 workers in garment and footwear factories were women, of whom 14 per cent were illiterate and 29 per cent demonstrated low levels of literacy.
Targeting these workers, Cambodia's Minister of Education Youth and Sport (MoEYS), with support from UNESCO, developed a special literacy initiative for factories, commonly referred to as the Factory Literacy Program.
Funded by the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls' Right to Education, the program aims to enable young women and girls working in factories to acquire basic functional literacy skills and empower them to better understand their own fundamental rights.
With the involvement of the French NGO Sipar and the Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD), both of which are setting up library and reading corners in factories, the program was rolled out in 11 factories in January 2017. UNESCO visited the learners, teachers and managers to hear about their experiences.
The stories each narrated reflected and validated the statement of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: 'Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society.' In Cambodia's manufacturing sector, which is often associated with low pay and difficult working conditions, literacy is opening new worlds of opportunities and empowerment.
Ms Chin Sreyleap, a 25-year-old working for the Sabrina Garment factory, recently graduated from the literacy course and seems elated with the progress she has made. 'I am the warehouse keeper for all the production materials here at this factory, so they expect me to note down the inventory.
Before, I was unable to read and write, but after finishing this course I am able to accurately count and record the numbers when they [staff] request materials. Now I feel more confident in dealing with the materials and distributing them,' she said.
Sharing a similar sentiment is Ms Hem Minea, who is working at Dewhirst Factory. She proudly told us, 'Previously my group leader would never ask me to do anything. But now that I can read and write, she asks me to do a bit of record-keeping once in a while.'
In addition to the improvements in learners' working abilities as a result of the literacy classes, many also expressed the joy they felt when they were able to use their newly learned skills outside of the factory in their day-to-day lives.
Being able to understand notices in shops, recognize brand names, read contracts and letters before signing them, and help their children with their homework are some of the activities that the learners said they would have been unable to do if they had not taken the initiative to join the program.
Apart from the development of their literacy skills, the learners also admitted that their general knowledge had improved along with their behavior, which they credited to the various topics incorporated into their textbooks.
UNESCO Institute for Statistics
According to Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, `Skill development is a critical part of preparing for work in the future, even for jobs that do not exist yet.
A child who cannot read, write or perform at least simple mathematics with proficiency will of course be poorly equipped as an adult to excel in the technology-driven industries of the future. We are in the midst of a global learning crisis: 617 million children and adolescents are not proficient in either reading or mathematics, according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).
It shows that two thirds of children not learning are actually in school, or were in school, but dropped out. Not only is the learning crisis alarming from a national economic perspective, it also threatens the ability of individuals to climb out of poverty through better income opportunities.
Each additional year of schooling can improve an individual's job prospects and raise their income by 10-20%, if they gain the required skill sets. Educated individuals are also more likely to make better decisions, such as vaccinating their children, and educated mothers are more likely to send their own children to school. The learning crisis is, simply, a massive waste of talent and human potential.
3 Messages from UIS
UIS data highlights three take-away messages underlying the learning crisis: 1. Lack of access to school means that there are children who will never have the chance to gain foundational skills that stem from literacy and numeracy 2.
Schools are failing to retain children who enroll, leading to high dropout rates and insufficient learning 3. Poor quality of education and classroom practices are leaving millions of children and adolescents without the skills to compete in the global economy.
UIS for Meaningful Investment
The role of education in skill development is particularly relevant today. Governments around the world have already been taking a hard look at the subject as part of their commitments to the sustainable development goals. The goal for education (SDG 4) includes a range of education targets such as equal access to vocational training and university, as well as free universal education at the primary and secondary levels.
To meet these goals and to ensure that all children are learning, we need a meaningful investment in millions of children and adolescents around the world. They deserve an opportunity to develop their own talents so they can help themselves and contribute to the well-being of their families and communities.
Mostly unskilled workers from Bangladesh working abroad earn low wages, remit less and often face various problems in host countries. According to Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, of the workers who worked abroad since 1976, 33 per cent were skilled and two per cent were professionals.
The World Bank Group's Migrants and Remittances Report of 2017 ranked Bangladesh as the top 9th remittance receiving country in the world with its $13.5 billion remittance receipt.
The WB ranked India as the highest remittance receiving nation for the year with $ 79 billion remittance receipt, the Philippines ranked 3rd with remittance receipt of $33 billion and Pakistan ranked 7th with $ 20 billion. During the year in review, 16.4 million Indians, 7.8 million Bangladeshis, 6.1 million Pakistanis and six million Filipinos worked abroad.
Bangladeshi unskilled workers were paid half the wages of skilled workers from India, the Philippines and Sri Lankans earned. Bangladeshis who work abroad seriously press on the point that Bangladesh needs to overcome the branding as a nation of unskilled workers. In this regard govt. officials allege that `recruiting agencies show no interest in recruiting workers who are trained.
Obviously skills development has link and relevance with the literacy programs of both the young and the old, in schools, fields and factories. It is high time we review our programs in literacy. International Literacy Day offers a moment to take stock of the progress and get united to face the challenges ahead.
This year, the event is devoted to better understanding the type of literacy required in terms of skills. For that all concerned with education are to engage in concerted efforts. They include the government, the policy makers and above all the teachers who will bring changes effectively in close cooperation with the parents.
For that we should get used to emphasize more on actual work in line with international experiences without following them blindly.(International Literacy Day was observed on 8 September 2018)
The writer is a member of National Education Policy Committee, and Chairman, Initiative for Human Development (IHD). Email: email@example.com