Literacy in a Digital World II: Notable Progress Inspite of Peculiar Challenges

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E-learning. Concept of education. Internet labrary. Book and Laptop. 3d

There is no doubt that digital technologies such as the Internet, phones, and computers have indeed changed the way people live and relate. This influence has however transcended basic aspects of living and human relationships to work, learning, and even governance.

In last week’s edition, we extensively articulated the global state of literacy and particularly, the peculiar state of literacy in Nigeria. Despite various efforts – albeit mostly in silos – made by the public, private, and non-governmental sectors, as well as international organisations, to drastically reduce illiteracy rates in the country, not much progress has been recorded.

In celebrating this year’s International Literacy Day, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in a position statement, communicated that collective efforts to counter the challenges of illiteracy will require the consideration of not only the undividable relations with social, economic, political and linguistic contexts; which we can link to the conventional interventions that have long been employed, but also the capacity to harness digital opportunity and divide.

As part of our commemoration of the 2017 International Literacy Day, below are the perspectives of a few key stakeholders working to curb literacy in Nigeria about the global consensus on digitizing literacy:

  • What are the different dimensions of literacy in digital societies, for which increased attention is required?

In digital societies, literacy is multi-dimensional and requires a broader and more comprehensive set of skills. As all aspects of society become influenced by technology, literacy in all its dimensions (cognitive, linguistic, social, cultural, developmental and educational) continues to evolve. With the diverse channels and platforms that exist today, individuals are empowered to do more than assimilate scheduled media messages; now, they can be more involved in influencing by creating and communicating messages. More attention must be paid to increasing access to digital tools, and expanding the curriculum – inside and outside schools to expose learners to a variety of experiences. We must prioritise empowering young people to be critical thinkers who are able to form their own opinion and be respectful of others’ perspectives as well.

–  Lafarge Africa Plc.

We think the dimensions are quite obvious: basic literacy is the foundation for every individual and this surpasses the capacity to read and understand sentences but access to and use of information for human existence. Next would be digital literacy. Beyond the comprehension of simple messages and basic communication needs, the immersion of technology in all spheres of life makes it an imperative. Finally, literacy towards language is key – basic local and international languages can be very useful in travel and surviving multicultural environments. This lack of literacy leads to conflict in the workplace, society and social agitation. Finally, professional or skills literacy is key to economic empowerment of individuals as well as workplace value.

-ThistlePraxis Consulting

  • What are the implications of digital technologies for policies, governance and financing for literacy?

Going digital obviously means a lot of things has to change. This includes the ways things are done. There are inherent advantages as well as disadvantages. For instance Nigeria spends well over 70% of its budget on recurrent expenditure because we spend hugely on salaries and overhead because files and messages are manually transmitted. An introduction of digital technology will mean there will be job cut and such money can be used for capital expenditure which would dive development. Education policies will obviously change to support the growth of digital technology as well as build the desired workforce for digital technology. Having a technological driven system will obviously improve our productivity and reduce wastages in governance including the menace of corruption.

-Ovie Brume Foundation

  • How do literacy programmes need to adapt in a digital world, in terms of delivery modes, curriculum, teaching-learning methodologies, materials, teachers and facilitators, language used, as well as monitoring and evaluation?

With regard to delivery modes, we need to make provisions for different modes of delivery in terms of onsite and online teaching and learning classrooms, digital classrooms, digital laboratories and libraries. These platforms and modes must be available which open up a variety of choices. These of course affect the kind of curriculum and teaching-learning methodologies and materials. The current Nigerian curriculum is too rigid for the digital world. The curriculum needs to be flexible allowing children to learn at their own pace and allowing children take more responsibility for their own learning. The teacher-fronted teaching has to give way to more activity-based, exploratory and cooperative learning principles where more sharing, dialogue and engagement go on in the class. Emphasis must be on equipping learners with critical thinking skills which assist learners create, integrate, communicate and critique new information and reassess previously held notions. Knowledge must be seen from the metaphor of a masquerade which requires changing your positions always if you must have a complete view of the masquerade.

It is as Tofflin argues, the illiterates of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those unwilling to learn, unlearn and relearn. All of these require that teachers and facilitators of knowledge must continuously update their professional knowledge through continuous professional development. Annual or biannual recertification should be the norm at all levels. This also requires revamping the curriculum of teacher preparation in Nigeria. How we monitor and evaluate teaching and learning need to be reviewed. More computer based testing should be explored given the teaching-learning dynamics of digital technologies and platforms in educational delivery. I believe digital technologies simply require that we take a good at our educational system and reboot it.

– Gabriel Egbe, PhD, Immediate Past President, Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN)

  • What are the opportunities and challenges to make literacy programmes available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable to all?

The opportunities and challenges of making literacy programs available and accessible are many. Opportunities include creating more apps and platforms to reach many more people with literacy. We have many technological devices which are used to support literacy across the world which has narrowed and closed the space divide whether in teaching-learning, business, governance or simply to communicate. More opportunities abound for cultural mix and information sharing globally. Of course, these come with challenges. In most countries the infrastructure to support digital technologies are grossly lacking such as stay power supply,  cost of bandwidth,  exposure to unwanted information,  electronic fraud, information fidelity and safety concerns. Cyber bully and many other internet abuses are also there to contend with. So, by and large, while we appreciate the opportunities provided by digital technologies, the challenges are real.

– Gabriel Egbe, PhD, Immediate Past President, Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN)

  • How can digital technologies change the ways literacy skills are assessed?

It is still common place to see pupils and teachers, especially those in public schools, being guided by obsolete curriculum that encourages a docile, theory-focused learning content, limiting creativity and innovation among students.

Beyond the inclusion of ICT in the national curriculum and provision of computer equipment to schools; prioritising digital learning in fun and creative ways for young people and their teachers remain a vital tool for promoting comprehension through visual displays, and passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

–  OANDO Foundation

  • How is your organisation contributing to the promotion of Literacy in a digital era?

Since 2014, Lafarge Africa has supported literacy development in Nigeria through the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition. The competition is a nationwide capacity-building initiative aimed at contributing to literacy development in public primary schools (pupils between the ages of 9 and 13) in Nigeria. Since its launch in 2014, over 200,000 pupils have been impacted across over 240 local government areas in Nigeria.

Through our volunteer initiative ‘Lafarge Africa Friends of Communities’, our employees visit adopted schools across the country to read with the children under the Reading Project. We also support other education and literacy measures through provision of scholarships to students, provision of teaching staff support to members of the National Youth Service Corps, and upgrading of classrooms.

Lafarge Africa is proud of its contribution to education, and remains committed to improving literacy and developing talent across Nigeria.

  • Lafarge Africa Plc.

The Ovie Brume Foundation has tapped into the potentials and opportunities digital technology has provided to improving literacy. At the Library and Resource Centre of the foundation, our computer systems have been installed with the Ace Speed Reader. This software allows for young pupils to read particular number of words per minutes with respect to their age. This improves their reading, comprehension and writing abilities as they are made to write what they have read from the computer system. With the ability to read increased number of words per minute, we are able to specifically evaluate the pupil’s literacy improvement. Also the foundation is working through the support of Lafarge Africa Plc. to deploy a technological driven literacy improvement intervention. We have also leveraged on information technology to implement the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition, which is a literacy improvement initiative driven also by Lafarge Africa Plc.

– Ovie Brume Foundation

Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) is collaborating with Digitalback Books in the UK to provide children with digital books especially the African story books and writers. RAN advocates for government to aggressively equip our schools with appropriate digital technologies which make learning easy and fun. We owe our children the duty to prepare them as global citizens even though they act locally. Only engagement with digital literacy can prepare our children for global competitiveness. RAN is collaborating with the Anambra State government on the project called ‘Literacy Empowerment and Achievement Project (LEAP). The project provides a tablet for each student as a learning tool. We believe this is the right of every Nigerian child and government should take this responsibility. Teachers need appropriate training on effective ways of using technology to enhance teaching and learning. Donor agencies, corporate bodies, communities and individuals must be fully engaged and involved in the digital drive to develop literacy in Nigeria.

 

  • Gabriel Egbe, PhD, Immediate Past President, Reading Association of Nigeria, Veritas University, Abuja

Since 2014, Oando Foundation has designed innovative programmes to empower marginalised Nigerian pupils with technology skills that will lead to their ultimate financial empowerment and prepare them for the 21st century workforce.  Oando Foundation has as a core component of its interventions, the establishment of ICT Centres in all adopted public primary schools to ensure pupils are exposed to technology early.

Partnerships have been key in pushing our technology agenda at Oando Foundation. We have partnered with various organisations including Coder Dojo Ireland, US Consulate Nigeria, Theirworld, Sumitomo Chemical Japan to provide modern technology resources, introduce coding and computing skills to teachers and pupils with special emphasis on girls.

To date, Oando Foundation has adopted 80 schools across 23 states in Nigeria, distributed 5,000 teaching aids, donated over 10,000 books and learning materials and facilitated training of over 1500 teachers in public schools. Over 60,000 pupils now have access to improved learning environments.

  • OANDO Foundation

ThistlePraxis is willing to support institutions working on literacy interventions across the country to ensure a more robust strategy and widespread impact.

-ThistlePraxis Consulting

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