UNESCO International Literacy Prizes Jury meets to choose the best literacy programmes in the context of COVID-19

On 16 -21 July 2020, an online meeting of the International Jury of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes started to review 66 applications submitted to UNESCO from around the world through a global call for applications which closed on Sunday 12 July.

This year’s Prizes theme is ‘Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond’ with a special attention to the role of educators and changing pedagogies. Composed of five eminent experts, the International Jury is tasked with identifying, in the coming days, five innovative literacy programmes that demonstrate effective teaching and learning with the potential to be resilient in facing the current crisis.

In the Opening Session, the Jury members welcomed the thematic focus on teaching and learning, and the role of educators. Before embarking on the evaluation, Ms Dong, Associate of the Institute at Zhejiang University, China, emphasized the need to pay attention to the most crisis-affected population groups. Similarly, Ms Tchang, Executive Director of Language Education Institute, Republic of Korea, highlighted the most vulnerable populations which must be the prime beneficiary of socio-culturally sensitive programmes. Mr Ngaka, Senior Lecturer in the College of Education and External Studies at Makerere University, Uganda, reminded that ‘the evaluation work should also pay attention to the role of technology in teaching and learning and a real and sustainable impact on learners and communities.’ Mr Benseman, an adult literacy expert from New Zealand with over 40 year-experience, and Ms Dajani, Associate Professor at Hashemite University in Jordan, and Chair of this year Jury, stressed the importance of innovation. “The current situation shows that education systems need to be revamped,” said Ms Dajani.

During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were closed down, disrupting the education of nearly two out of three students across the world – over of 1.5 billion students (91% of the students) in 194 countries at the peak time. The pandemic also affected around 63 million primary and secondary teachers in 165 countries. In addition, numerous literacy programmes for youth and adults have been suspended.

To cope with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on education and learning, alternative approaches to learning, such as distance learning or learning in an open space, have been adopted. Educators, who are at the heart of literacy teaching and learning, have faced multiple challenges due to the lockdown. To sustain and intensify efforts in foster effective teaching and learning and supporting educators during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, UNESCO chose this theme for both International Literacy Day and the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes this year.

Since 1967, UNESCO International Literacy Prizes have rewarded excellence and innovation in the field of literacy to support effective and innovative literacy practices, and promote dynamic literate societies to bridge the global literacy challenges faced by a number of children, youth and adults, including 773 million youth and adults who lack basic literacy skills.

The two International Literacy Prizes are: The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize, Established in 1989, with the support of the Government of the Republic of Korea. It gives special consideration to the development and use of mother-tongue literacy education and training. The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize has been renewed for another 6 year-cycle at the decision of the UNESCO Executive Board made at its 209th session. The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, established in 2005, with the support of the Government of the People’s Republic of China. It is dedicated to literacy learning for adults in rural areas and out-of-school youth, particularly girls and women.

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