The Zambia National Educational Coalition (ZANEC) is delighted to join the rest of the world in commemorating World Literacy Day which falls on 8th September, 2021. Literacy is the ability to read and write. Literacy plays a big role in education and the two cannot be separated. In this global village where the world is going digital literacy is an important asset that very individual should have regardless of the social, economic, cultural and political status as well as ability and gender.
The theme for 2021 is “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”. This year’s theme clearly points to the fact that inclusive continuity of literacy learning amidst the COVID 19 pandemic is the way to go in the digital platforms. It further reminds the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and a human right. Further to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society even amidst COVID 19.
It is sad to note that despite progress made, literacy challenges persist with at least 773 million young people and adults lacking worldwide basic literacy skills today. In Zambia according to the Demographic Health Survey of 2018 two-thirds (66%) of women and 82% of men age 15-49 are literate meaning that 44% of women and 18% of men age 15-19 are illiterate. With COVID 19 the illiteracy levels have increased because of the many challenges faced to access digital platforms. It has been observed that not everyone has access to digital platforms hence increasing the inequalities. Therefore, there is need to narrow down or completely reduce the digital division between the vulnerable and the privileged people in accessing E-learning. According to Zambia Demographic Health Survey 2018 respondents living in urban areas are more likely to be literate than those living in rural areas, although the gap in literacy rates between urban and rural populations is higher among women than among men. Eighty-one percent of urban women and 91% of urban men are literate, as compared with 54% of rural women and 74% of rural.
With COVID 19 the inequalities in terms of access to literacy have increased for most people especially in the rural parts of the country have limited or no access to digital platforms of learning. Therefore, for Zambia to recovery from the impact of COVID 19 or even to ensure that there is continuity of learning amidst COVID 19 there is need for the country to invest more in ICT equipments, stellates that will ensure that everyone regardless of status is able to access learning. It important to know that literacy cannot wait it has to continue for the country to develop and meet its sustainable development goals and national development plans as well as for the citizens to live decent lives.
Finally, ZANEC observes with sadness that the 2021 budget for Youth and Adult Literacy allocation was 2.5 million which made it impossible for Alternatives Modes of Education Programme (AMEP) to be effectively provided. Amidst the COVID 19 we expected that AMEP would receive a lion’s share allocation so as to address the challenges in the provision of AMEP. Furthermore, ZANEC research conducted in June 2020 in all the provinces with the participation of key stakeholders sadly revealed that the reach of the alternative modes of learning that the Ministry of General Education is implementing is below 23%. Worse still, the research findings show that only children along the line of rail, mainly from rich households, are accessing the alternative modes of education designed to provide continuity of learning at home. While, children from rural and poor households have no access to alternative modes of education. Our research further showed that E-learning and Television education programmes are only reaching a few children due to lack of internet, high cost of internet bundles, load shedding of power and lack of ICT equipment or gadgets in general among our children.
Therefore, we take this opportunity to call upon the new government through Ministry of Finance once again to increase funding for the 2022 national budget allocation to education sector from current 11.5% to at least 15% with the aim of reaching 20% by the year 2023.
Finally, ZANEC would like to wish our learners a happy and fruitful 2021 World Literacy Day commemoration.