Being able to read and write is something we often take for granted, yet for millions of children, basic literacy and access to education is not a given. Nearly 771 million young people and adults lack basic literacy skills today according to UNESCO. There is a significant gap in literacy, with poor children unable to access quality education and suffering with lower literacy levels.
The pandemic worsened many of the inequalities around literacy and access to education. It is estimated that following school closures during lockdowns worldwide, nearly 24 million children might never return to formal education. 11 million of these children are projected to be girls and young women, exacerbating gender inequalities already a problem in developing countries.
Learning to read and write is essential for every child. It is a matter of dignity and a human right and will help us move towards a more literate and sustainable society.
A strong foundation in education is built on the ability to read, write, and comprehend. Without an early education and a solid start in learning of basic literacy, children are at a disadvantage throughout their education.
One of the ways we hope to transform education in the countries where we work is to provide the best foundational education programmes we can. In Tanzania, Guatemala, and Brazil, there are three nursery and day care centres that provide foundation and early years education for hundreds of pre-school children. The early education they receive sets them up for success in primary and secondary school, ensuring that they have the skills they need to move into employment one day and be self-sufficient, productive adults.
Many of the poorest children lost up to 280 school days during the pandemic and the result is a severe lack of literacy in children. The Sisters of Mary at our programmes and their teachers report that many children entering the schools now struggle with basic reading and writing.
In countries like Mexico and the Philippines, children are entering the schools struggling to understand the language used at the schools or even their national language. In Mexico, children from rural areas who missed out on school can’t understand Spanish and only speak their local dialect.
All this means that the children joining us now need additional classes after school and at the weekends to catch up. The teachers and Sisters in our schools are working hard to bring the children to the level they need to complete their school year, and to improve their literacy levels.
A slightly overlooked aspect of literacy is it’s role in independent learning alongside formal schooling. Reading for pleasure ignites the imagination, fuels creativity, and supports problem solving in children’s developing brains. It has been proven to improve mental health and resilience, promote self-confidence, and the result is great all-round academic success.
Reading for pleasure is a form of play, and when children play, they grow and develop. Children play when they are safe, and have the leisure time to play. For our children who have had to work from a young age to help support their families, play is a joy and a privilege.
Jerome is a graduate from our Philippines programme. When he joined our school near Cavite, he was able to play and he developed a passion for reading. He spent his most precious hours in the library and this new found love stood him in good stead for his future. He became a journalist and then worked in communications for Save the Children, helping other children just like him.
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