September 8th is the day proclaimed as International Literacy Day by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1966. The main purpose of International Literacy Day is to raise awareness and concern for literacy problems at community, national and global level.

This year we mark International Literacy Day under the cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic. International Literacy Day (ILD) 2020 will therefore focus on Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond with a focus on the role of educators and changing pedagogies. https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/literacyday hyperlink International Literacy Day

Puku commends UNESCO on this focus. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted more than ever before, the inequalities in South African society in general and the education system specifically. The lockdown in March led to a 100% shut down of the public education system in South Africa. 12.9 million public school students and their 410,000 educators in over 25,000 schools came to a standstill. There was no option of working from home or attending school remotely, whilst private schools which serve a mere 3% of the student population, switched to their largely already-existing online ecosystems.

 Middle class parents and teachers rapidly strengthened their capabilities to leverage online resources to support their children at home, while working class and rural parents in materially deprived communities were left floundering. This situation has only served to increase the inequality in our education system. In their passionate appeal for a stimulus plan for rural education, a group of prominent South African educators highlighted this inequality, arguing that that without a radical investment into upgrading rural teachers, children in rural schools will be left impossibly behind. They argue that we must use this period to ensure all teachers have appropriate technology, data, connectivity, and experiences using online resources for teaching and collaboration.

The challenge is clear. The children who have access to reading material, especially books and are digitally connected, will be far better placed to cope with school closures and disruptions than the children who do not.

We at Puku are committed to meeting the challenge of improving our own digital capacity to better serve parents, caregivers, teachers to provide better quality of books for our children in all South African languages. We must make sure that we have a better story to tell on International Literacy Day 2021.

Puku congratulates the Literacy Association of South Africa (LITASA) on meeting the challenge of holding their 2020 conference digitally. We will do whatever we can in our small way to support their efforts.