Reflecting on the Importance of Literacy Teaching and Learning on International Literacy Day 2020

On International Literacy Day, Zonta International recognizes the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies.

In 2020, International Literacy Day focuses on "Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond," especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.

Zonta understands the importance of education, especially for women and girls. We provide four scholarships, fellowships and awards to women pursuing careers in typically male-dominated fields and all of our international service projects contain an education component.

"Education is the key to success," said International President Sharon Langenbeck. "We must educate women and girls so they have opportunities to be self-reliant and financially independent."

Why is education so important?

  • Girls with no education are three times as likely as those with secondary education to marry by 18. According to Girls Not Brides, "Educated girls develop skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including if, when and whom to marry."
  • Education is one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage, which is why Zonta has supported ending child marriage since 2014 and is currently contributing US$1.5 million to the Global Programme to End Child Marriage.
  • Education is one of the top 10 solutions recommended by Green America to reverse climate change. Women who have more education have fewer and healthier children and actively manage their reproductive health. Green America says, "Education is the most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.
  • Education helps protect against natural disasters. A 2013 study published in Ecology and Societyfound that educating girls "is the single most important social and economic factor associated with a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters."

COVID-19 presents new and increased challenges for students and educators. During the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were closed around the world—disrupting the education of 62.3% of the world’s more than 1 billion students.

In Madagascar, where Zonta supports the Let Us Learn program, UNICEF looked to lessons from past crises to address the specific challenges faced by girls and to protect the progress that has been made in girls’ education. In April, a portion of Zonta’s funding was redirected to support the continuity of education for children in Madagascar, including US$100,000 for printing and distributing learning materials to approximately 45,000 children for independent learning while schools remain closed. In contexts like Madagascar, where digital learning solutions are less accessible, reading and writing materials can be used to reach the most vulnerable.

This year’s International Literacy Day theme highlights literacy learning from the perspective of lifelong learning. The United Nations poses the following questions:

  • What is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on youth and adult literacy educators and teaching and learning?
  • What are the lessons learned?
  • How can we effectively position youth and adult literacy learning in global and national responses and strategies for the recovery and resilience-building phase?

Through exploring these questions, the UN states, International Literacy Day provides an opportunity to consider and discuss how "innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programs to face the pandemic and beyond."

Zonta asks its clubs and members to reflect on these questions, talk about them together, and plan ways in which your club can promote literacy for women and girls and help achieve education for all.

8 September 2020