Literacy Day this year focuses on how to match skills to the future of work

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International Literacy Day (ILD) was celebrated on September 8. The theme, Literacy and Skills development, aims to raise awareness about how to ensure that literacy skills match the skills required for the world of work.

In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 (Ensuring equitable and quality education that promotes lifelong learning for all), Unesco asserts that we need to address skills mismatch. “The indivisible nature of the goals and targets urges integrated approaches and intersectoral collaboration, which helps improve not only integrated programmes, but also conditions and environments required for learners to acquire, use and advance literacy and other skills to lead to better cognitive, social and development outcomes.”

In addition, SDG 8 emphasises the importance of labour market outcomes of literacy and skills development programmes, particularly for disadvantaged target groups. In South Africa, this is particularly relevant for the NEETS category: those not in employment, education or training.

The world of work is synonymous with change, requiring adaptability and creativity in a burgeoning technological age. How this translates into curriculums and what’s offered at schools is a process and a complex one at that. Questions asked include how to make school subjects more relevant and how to improve the teaching and learning of STEM skills. (These are science, technology, engineering and maths.)

Therefore, this year’s ILD highlights learning as a lifelong task because change is constant. Some countries have begun to focus on “pathways to learning” which aligns to a learner’s agency, motivations and career path. It’s a more targeted learning path, intrinsically matched to someone’s true talents.

At first glance this is an ambitious task requiring significant resources. Perhaps it’s a start in the conversation about how to have meaningful connections between literacy and vocational education and training. This requires, as Unesco notes, “programmes, policies, systems and governance.” Like with everything, an integrated approach across departments must be employed.

South African programmes include the Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign, which aimed to address illiteracy in adults. Between 2008 (the programme’s inception) and 2015, 3.9-million people were reached.

Literacy starts from birth and organisations like Cotlands have endeavoured to improve literacy through play-based learning. Play-based learning will not only lay the foundations required for reading and writing, but ensure the kindling and nurturing of creativity and flexibility. These latter skills are required for lifelong learning.
Play, asserts Monica Stach, CEO of Cotlands, provides learning opportunities for children to develop their language skills through a variety of activities. Often, it’s the quality of interaction between an adult and a child that promotes learning and language development. Adults can observe play activities and ask questions. This leads to children developing their vocabulary and in a playful way. “When children have the opportunity to talk about their play activities it helps them practice how to pronounce new words and develop the language skills critical for future learning,” she said.

Caregivers could for example, go to a park and count the steps to the swings, or take note of the colours of flowers. The opportunities for conversation are endless if one becomes acutely attuned to one’s surroundings. Says Marie-Louise Samuels, Early Childhood Development, Department of Basic Education, “Play and language development are knitted together and facilitate the development of vocabulary and expression that leads to forming concepts needed for future formal learning.”

While fixing the mismatch between education and the requirements for work is a global concern, teachers and caregivers can take simple steps to build the foundations for lifelong learning. Lifelong learning inherently holds agility, flexibility and adaptability at its core.