Friday, 1 December, 2023

Reinvigorating Literacy Campaigns

Uttam Maharjan


Nepal has given priority to literacy. In the past, the country’s literacy rate was very low. Girls were hardly sent to school. And the dropout rate was also high. With the passage of time, the successive governments realised the importance of education. The importance of education has spread far and wide so much so that the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (UN) has also stressed quality education (SDG No. 4) as one of the important goals.

In 2008 AD, the Nepal Literacy Campaign was launched throughout the country. The three-year campaign aimed at achieving the goal of education for all with a vision to notch up a 50 per cent increase in the adult literacy rate by 2015. In 2012, the Literate Nepal Mission, the second three-year literacy campaign, was launched so as to achieve the objective envisioned in the first literacy campaign. It gave prominence to non-governmental partners and emphasised the production of local materials and use of local languages. However, these two campaigns failed to produce desirable outcomes as far as increasing the literacy rate was concerned.

In 2015, a continuing education programme was launched in line with the global commitment to lifelong learning. Afterwards, the Literate Nepal Year 2019 was launched as the third literacy campaign. However, the campaign has not fared well since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country in early 2020. The continuing education programme is designed for imparting lifelong education to all; however, only adults have been prioritised for the programme.

The School Sector Development Plan (2016-2023) also incorporates a lifelong learning objective. The plan aims at increasing the literacy rate among youths and adults and cultivating reading and writing habits among them. The plan envisions the attainment of the objective through community libraries and community learning centres.

The Education Policy 2019 also encapsulates lifelong learning as one of its components. The policy encourages higher education institutions to initiate lifelong learning programmes as well as other education programmes through information and communications technology. The core objective of the policy is to make every citizen literate and make Nepal a fully literate country through non-formal, alternative, traditional and open education modes, with lifelong learning at centre stage.

Literacy is not just about learning but also about improving livelihoods through skill development. The policy, therefore, aims at making literacy, non-formal education and lifelong learning relevant to occupations and social life. The policy also aims at developing community learning centres as centres for non-formal education and lifelong learning. In this regard, local governments should help and support community learning centres. It need not be reiterated that community learning centres and community libraries fall within the jurisdiction of local governments.

Non-governmental organisations are also on this front. They have designed their own literacy and post-literacy materials for adults. The National Resource Centre for Non-Formal Education, for example, focuses on teaching the Nepali language and numeracy. It also teaches English (reading and writing), vegetable farming and personal hygiene. The post-literacy component mostly includes health and livelihoods: women’s health, entrepreneurship, improved stoves, nutrition, hygiene, family planning, communicable diseases, social justice and group savings and credit.
Rural Education and Development (READ) Nepal, an INGO of READ Global, an America-based development organisation, is working to increase the literacy rate and improve the livelihoods of rural communities through community libraries and resource centres. READ Nepal, in cooperation with local communities, helps build community libraries, provides books, other materials and software and imparts training to library staff and the others concerned for the effective management of community libraries and resource centres.

The initiative taken by the country in the literacy field is praiseworthy. It has initiated several literacy campaigns and several non-governmental organisations are also supporting the government’s campaigns. It may be noted that family literacy and intergenerational learning are important components of lifelong education. Family literacy is where adults and children learn together. Family literacy programmes adopt a holistic approach to learning at home and in communal settings, with adults involved in children’s education and recognised as influencers on the academic success of children. Such programmes promote an educational interface between adults and children, nurture relationships between them and create learning environments for both.

In a similar vein, intergenerational learning is a process wherein people of all ages can learn together and from each other. In this learning process, knowledge is handed down from generation to generation. Intergenerational learning is not confined to the family circle only; it has also extended to social groups outside the family circle. It is a tool for sharing knowledge, skills and even social norms and values among different generations. It also contributes to promoting intergenerational relationships, this bridging the generation gap.

Indigenous knowledge
One of the merits of intergenerational learning is preserving indigenous knowledge, which is a fountainhead of knowledge about various aspects such as health and occupations. Such knowledge is handed down from generation to generation. There are apprehensions that such knowledge may be lost. There is a growing tendency among people to leave their caste-based occupations and take up other jobs. That is why, most young people from rural and remote areas tend to migrate to urban areas or foreign countries for alternative jobs. Various factors such as changes in lifestyles and preference for alternative occupations can be identified as contributory factors. Unless codified, indigenous knowledge may vanish into thin air. Such knowledge is part of education and must be perpetuated for the benefit of posterity.

Literacy campaigns are meant for not only educating all but also enabling them to improve their livelihoods by engaging in occupations on the strength of the skills learnt under the campaigns. Such campaigns are also a must to meet one of the goals of the SDGs: quality education. The outbreak of COVID-19 has hampered the literacy campaigns to a great extent. Now that the infection rate in the country is declining, it may be hoped that the country will succeed in achieving the goal of making the country a literate Nepal.

(Maharjan writes on contemporary issues.