September 8 is the day declared by the United Nations as International Literacy Day. This year’s theme is “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide.”
In Trinidad and Tobago and across the world, the impact of COVID-19 has affected millions of children whose learning has been disrupted by lockdowns and school closures.
Online learning, without the benefit of socialising and face-to-face time with teachers and friends, has been the new norm since this global pandemic set in last year.
T&T officials have admitted more than 2,000 children dropped out the school system because they could not access electronic devices and in some cases, were simply unable to cope with online learning. For some, however, it was also a case of survival with so many parents losing jobs due to the shutdown and closures of some of businesses.
Today, International Literacy Day is being observed on the eve of the release of this year’s Secondary Entrance Assessments exam results.
The children who sat this year’s examination created history, having been tutored for the examination via online platforms. It is our fervent hope that they will all excel, knowing that they did their best at a time when the world was facing its worst health crisis in decades. Everyone should be proud of them.
This week, school again “reopened” via virtual platforms. There is hope that once enough children in the 12-18 age range get vaccinated, those preparing for exams will at least be allowed to return to classrooms.
T&T subscribes to sustainable development goal four of the United Nations, which speaks to advancing literacy as an integral facet of lifelong learning. According to the UNESCO, the adult literacy rate for this country in 2010 was 98.7 per cent, up from the 94.97 per cent rate recorded in 1980.
However, this is at odds with a survey done by the Adult Literacy Tutors’ Association (ALTA) and UWI in 1994 and 1995. That adult literacy survey revealed that 22-23% of the population aged 15 and over were unable to cope with everyday reading and writing. According to ALTA, this meant one in every four Trinbagonians were not literate. ALTA, on its website, says although the surveys were done over a decade ago, “it is highly unlikely that a survey today would reveal any positive change. ALTA has been leading the charge to tackle this country’s low literary rate since 1992 by providing reading and writing classes to adults.
As we celebrate today and look with anticipation to the SEA results tomorrow, this country must recognise that COVID has taken away so much from the nation’s children, who are the future of this country. Those who have ambitions and look forward to a future where they can become leaders owe it to them to do what is required to ensure they don’t lose more valuable in-person school time. To do this, more students and people must get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. No child must be allowed to fall through the cracks, nor must they be allowed to face the world illiterate and unable to cope. It is our duty, as adults, to save our children and we must do what is right for them.