The Zambia National Educational Coalition (ZANEC) is excited to join the rest of the world in commemorating World Literacy Day which falls on 8th September, 2020. World Literacy Day highlights the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Traditionally, literacy is the ability to read and write. Reading and writing are critical to individuals, communities and society at large and we cannot do without reading, especially in this age of information technology when all subjects are dependent on one’s ability to read.
The theme for 2020 is “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond”. This year’s theme points to the need for continuity of literacy teaching amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. As we are all aware, COVID 19 has brought a lot of challenges in the education sector, which include the closure of all schools in Zambia that took place on 20th March 2020. In a country where only 5% of Grade 7 pupils achieve minimum proficiency in literacy according to the 2018 report by OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the impact of the school closure on our literacy levels has been huge. Therefore, the need for promoting continuity of teaching and learning in literacy during the school closure cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, despite its importance, the reach of alternative education modes adopted during the school closures have proved to be ineffective given the low reach we have so far recorded.
As a result, in order for this years’ theme to be a reality, it is important for the government and all stakeholders to analyse the role of educators, as well as formulate effective policies, systems, governance and measures that can support the continuity of learning during the COVID 19 pandemic. The main solution being the urgent re-opening of schools in order to give children an opportunity to benefit from literacy lessons. This is because illiteracy levels have obviously been worsened by the prolonged closure of schools due to COVID 19 pandemic. Literacy skills are critical in fostering one’s personal development and financial income as learning, interactions, engagements, businesses, marketing and selling are now mostly being done online. It is therefore a big challenge for the larger population that cannot read and write to participate and use online engagements. It is therefore, important to promote alternative modes of literacy learning to enable most of our people to read and write even during COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.
Finally, ZANEC observes with sadness that the 2020 budget for Youth and Adult Literacy allocation reduced by 30% despite it being a major strategy to ensure that the youth and adults who fall out of school stay functionally literate and are able to effectively contribute to national development. The reduced budget has made the response to interventions worse in the area of literacy in Zambia during this period of COVID 19 pandemic. Therefore, we take this opportunity to call upon the government through Ministry of Finance to increase funding for the 2021 national budget allocation. The 12.4% that was allocated in the 2020 budget to the Education and Skills Sector is way below the SADC and Cairo Protocols recommendation. The two protocols which Zambia is a part, stipulate that at least a minimum of 20% of the National Budget should be allocated to the education sector.
Finally, ZANEC would like to wish our learners a happy and fruitful 2020 World Literacy Day commemoration.