The shoes of attendees at the door of our literacy centre in Jebel Awlia.
Combatting Learning Poverty in Our Women’s Literacy and Orphans’ Schooling Programs
The Impact of Covid-19 and Our Response
The Impact of Covid-19
Covid 19 has changed education in ways few could have envisaged just a year ago. It has also forced a profound rethink on how education can work for the poorest in our societies. Parents have been thrown into the role of formal educators while teachers and students grapple with the challenges of distance learning, often with only limited technological resources and expertise. And with every month that schools and adult literacy centres remain closed, existing deep inequalities in access to education become more acute. While many governments have sought to monitor the impact of school closures throughout the Covid pandemic, sadly the fate of literacy programs during the pandemic has often been overlooked.
Jebel Awlia, on the outskirts of Khartoum, is one of the most educationally deprived communities in the capital.
High illiteracy rates among parents negatively impact children’s educational chances. Extended school closures in already educationally deprived areas like Jebel Awlia magnify the effects of this intergenerational inequality. Suspending women’s literacy circles not only entrenches disadvantage suffered by these women but also of their children and ultimately their whole communities.
Covid and Learning Poverty
”More than half of 10-year old children in low- and middle income countries either had failed to learn to read with comprehension or were out of school completely.” (World Bank, 2020). This is just one example of pre-Covid Learning Poverty, already estimated at 87%+ in Sub-Saharan Africa. Covid will only worsen the Learning deprivation gap – the average distance of a learning deprived child to the minimum reading proficiency. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that the depth of learning deprivation “will increase by three times more than the number of children who are learning-deprived. This is almost three times the global average and four times more than in Europe and Central Asia.” Every month lost to school closures deprives children of earning capacity later in life in some of the poorest communities.
Extended school closures make it more likely that girls will abandon full-time education as household and childcare responsibilities take renewed precedence and it is more probable that both boys and girls will be drawn into child labour as families suffer acute economic hardship, especially in rural areas. Girls are more likely to be subject to early marriage when not attending school. See too Child Marriage
Is Going Digital the Answer?
Much has been said on the need to “re-imagine” and “recalibrate” education systems to meet the new realities of a post-Covid world. Over recent months, emphasis has rightly been placed on extending access to digital technology and improving its performance in distance learning. Yet, many children in Sudan have no access to the reliable and affordable internet needed for effective distance learning and resources for measuring the effectiveness of these programs are sorely stretched. Adult literacy participants frequently have no access to internet learning and with limited alternative TV or radio literacy support, all too often they have found themselves bereft of literacy input throughout the pandemic. Our orphans and literacy beneficiaries live in communities with little or no internet connectivity and often have no electricity.
Impact of Covid on Literacy Workers
The pandemic has highlighted the need for renewed focus on training and professional support for all literacy workers. Often volunteers or only paid part-time on precarious contracts, literacy workers have been acutely vulnerable to loss of earnings during the pandemic. The need is pressing for increased professionalization of literacy workers, investment in their training and in particular, input on creative strategies for countering the learning deficits brought about by the suspension of literacy sessions during the pandemic. And all this when funds are limited and other areas of education may be prioritized over what has always been considered the poor sister in education drives. At the same time, more research is needed into understanding the processes at work in adult learning. (see visual summary below).
Mrs Adila Osman, our literacy coordinator
Throughout the pandemic, we have remained in close contact with our literacy workers and participants and provided Covid-19 related support wherever we can. It is great news that our literacy program will start again this month but Covid has brought and will continue to bring extra challenges. Adila notes that digital learning – given the realities explained above – is problematic but we will be conducting surveys to determine how we might be able to apply the experience recently gained by the National Network for Literacy and Adult Education in delivering electronic literacy as Covid restrictions and outbreaks are bound to endure for several months more.
The overwhelming impact of Covid on our literacy participants, Adila stresses, has been economic and driven many back into extreme poverty:
“Some ladies used to work as domestic labour but the families stopped hiring them. The same thing happened with casual labour in some companies. Again, some ladies used to sell tiny things or breakfast for school children but they had to stop with the lockdown. Some of the ladies achieved success in soup manufacturing and marketing.” Many have lost all their savings and the little capital they had during the pandemic.
Given this, we believe our priority must be, in consultation with all our participants, to introduce new income-generating skills into our literacy program – skills offering economic resilience to our participants in on-going pandemic and post-Covid Sudan. We will also reassess our support for and the training needs of our literacy workers, many of whom work part-time and have been hard hit by the pandemic. See both Coronavirus in Sudan Stepping Back from the Abyss Part 2 Economic Impact and Towards Economic Empowerment
As mentioned above, the profound rethink of education policy prompted by the pandemic has highlighted the essential role of the teacher and literacy worker and the urgent need for new training approaches as curriculum changes, accelerated learning programs to compensate for lost class time and other mitigation policies emerge. Our teacher training program for elementary school teachers – many of whom teach in schools attended by our supported orphans – will play an invaluable role in this. The program will begin next month. More news on the program in future posts.
Below, Visual Summary of Key Findings of International Literacy Day 2020 (UN)
This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership.
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