Kofi Annan once said, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.”

Literacy is generally defined as the ability to read and write; and to others, the foundation of civilization. Literacy allows us to understand and perceive the world as we know it today. It’s in other words the genesis of learning and understanding.

Without literacy, one is not able to read or write, hence oblivious to knowledge. Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing, and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich, and fast-changing world.

This year’s literacy day will be celebrated on September 8 under the theme “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”.

For years now, literacy has been mostly acquired from school in a learning environment. Children as young as three years have been enrolled in school to learn how to read the alphabet and write at an early stage. This newly-acquired skill allows them to think and creatively craft their own future whilst making an immense contribution to the development of the country.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, however, distorted this long-standing tradition at an unprecedented scale. In Uganda, the Covid-19 crisis saw the closure and phased reopening of schools while kindergartens/early learning centers continue to face indefinite closure until further notice.

Based on our education system, it is mostly during kindergarten and lower primary that a child is able to acquire basic literacy skills. There is a positive link between early childhood learning and the future holistic development of a child.

In Uganda, children aged three to five years are expected to be enrolled in pre-school such that by the age of six, they proceed to the primary one.

Unfortunately, due to the new normal, these children are stuck at home, awaiting the reopening of kindergartens or preparing to join primary one with a fresh blank mind.

With fewer children having the ability to read and write, this results in an exclusion of low-literate and low-skilled youth and adults from full participation in their communities and societies.

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) report, Uganda’s literacy rate was 76.53 percent as of 2018. Although there has been an increase in the literacy rate in the country, the remaining 23.47 percent is still significant and worth our attention.

Globally, however, at least 773 million youths and adults still cannot read and write and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills.

According to UNESCO, the Covid-19 crisis has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionally affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults.

The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Reflecting back to Kofi Annan’s saying, we need literacy to empower individuals and improve their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value.

Therefore, hope is in investing in the early years of education not only to serve the children but also to develop human capital. Hope is ensuring the continuity of learning, including distance learning, often in combination with in-person learning for young children who are currently seated at home.

Hope is availing literacy learning materials and opportunities to our communities. Last but not least, hope is bridging the persistent digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the ability to engage with technology, as well as disparities in other services such as access to electricity, which has limited learning options.

Let’s build hope by promoting literacy among our population.

By Stella Namatovu

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