Literacy is literally life, as one’s ability to read and write translates to the rise and fall of opportunities in life. An illiterate person, no matter his or her other skills, will be at a disadvantageous position. He or she will be left behind in a world that is increasingly dominated by digitalization.
While most of the population are literate, and despite the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, UNESCO revealed that there are still a staggering 773 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women. In the Philippines, the outlook is more positive as we have one of the highest literacy rates in the ASEAN region, but there is still a small portion of our population that is illiterate.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) under its Functional Literacy, Education, Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS) in 2019, 91.6 percent of Filipinos, aged 10 to 65 years old, were functional literate. This translated to around 73 million out of 79.7 million in the same age group who were considered literate on a functional level. Looking at these numbers, it also showed that there were still around six million Filipinos who were illiterate at the time the survey was conducted.
It also revealed that across the regions, the National Capital Region (NCR) registered the highest literacy rate at 96.5 percent; while the lowest was registered in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) at 71.6 percent. This showed the immense inequality in resource allocation and government must take note of this disparity.
Another point to ponder, especially among primary education experts, is that only about half or 52.4 percent of elementary graduates can read, write, compute, and comprehend. What about the other half? The survey generated more questions than answers.
There are other questions that are more alarming: “How did the two-year pandemic impact literacy among the population? How did it affect the students considering the closure of classrooms? Did students really learn via online delivery of lessons?”
This is also perhaps a worrisome scenario in the world. These questions become more relevant as UNESCO spearheads the “International Literacy Day,” an annual event set on Sept. 8, which was first celebrated 51 years ago.
This year’s International Literacy Day will be celebrated worldwide under the theme, “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces” and will be an opportunity to rethink the importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all. In the Philippines, Proclamation No. 1886, signed in 1979, also declared Sept. 8 of each year as “National Literacy Day.” Various agencies and LGUs have events to commemorate the day such as reading outreach programs by the National Library and the Department of Education (DepEd).
“Despite progress, 771 million youth and adults around the world still do not possess basic literacy skills. Covid-19 is exacerbating this issue. School closures and disruptions caused by the pandemic have likely driven learning losses and drop-outs,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO.
After the dust has settled with regards to the school opening, the DepEd must now look into the impact that the pandemic has on our youth — and do all it can to stem the tide of illiteracy. Dr. Jose Rizal once said, “the youth is the hope of the nation.” There will be no hope at all in a nation where citizens do not know how to read or write.
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