INTERNATIONAL LITERACY DAY: Salesian Missions highlights literacy and educational initiatives for poor and at-risk youth in the face of pandemic
Programs in India, Nepal, Nicaragua and Samoa illustrate the work of Salesians around the globe who are focused on providing education during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
NEW ROCHELLE, NY (Sept. 8, 2020) Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, joins humanitarian organizations and countries around the globe in celebrating International Literacy Day. Celebrated each year on Sept. 8, the day was launched in 1967 to “remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.”
This year’s theme focuses on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.” The day highlights the role of educators and changing pedagogies. The United Nations noted, “The recent COVID-19 crisis has been a stark reminder of the existing gap between policy discourse and reality: a gap that already existed in the pre-COVID-19 era and negatively affects the learning of youth and adults, who have no or low literacy skills, and therefore, tend to face multiple disadvantages. During COVID-19, in many countries, adult literacy programs were absent in the initial education response plans, so most adult literacy programs that did exist were suspended, with just a few courses continuing virtually, through TV and radio, or in open air spaces.”
There are 773 million adults and young people who lack basic literacy skills, according to the UN. In addition, 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.
“Salesian missionaries focus educational efforts on literacy and an array of other foundational skill building initiatives, including learning English language skills,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “During the pandemic, Salesians are working to address educational challenges head-on with many changing and adapting to providing educational lessons remotely and in person with safety measures in place.”
In honor and celebration of International Literacy Day 2020, Salesian Missions is proud to highlight Salesian programs with a focus on literacy and that give poor youth a chance to gain an education.
In the wake of the extended lockdown in India due to the coronavirus pandemic, Radio Salesian and Salesian TV offer broadcast and podcast lessons for the University of North Bengal’s undergraduate and graduate programs. The virtual launch of “Radio Edu Pods,” the mass education project for college students, was held on May 1.
The lessons are available for free 24 hours a day, seven days a week on Salesian TV’s YouTube channel. The Monday to Friday radio broadcast and web transmissions are also provided at 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the Listen2MyRadio app.
“This no-cost mode of teaching and learning, which reaches the maximum number of students at any given time, is offered by faculty members of the University of North Bengal’s colleges,” said Father C. M. Paul, director of Radio Salesian.
Subjects currently featured on the Salesian TV YouTube channel include the English and Bengali languages, mass communication, sociology, history and philosophy. More subjects and lessons will be made available.
Two Salesian schools in the Don Bosco Community of Bharoul in eastern Nepal are conducting educational lessons for 1,500 students using 42 rented rooms, each called a community classroom. Each class educates only 10 students at a time and strictly follows government restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There are 46 teachers who are facilitating this new way of learning. The lessons began on July 16.
Schools in Nepal have been closed for the last three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is still uncertainty when schools will be back to normal. School premises cannot be used to conduct lessons because the students cannot all come together to learn. To continue reaching students, Salesians rented rooms to conduct lessons in nearby villages, educating smaller subsets of students. This method was preferred over online lessons because of the financial restrictions on many students.
The local government educational department has given Salesians the authorization to carry out the lessons this way. All regulations must be strictly respected, such as the use of masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
Currently, lessons in major subjects such as English, Nepali, math, science and social studies are being taught. Students, parents and teachers are all in support of these new lessons. From the first day lessons started, 95 percent of students were in class.
COVID-19 has forced millions of people into isolation and caused a major disruption in educational systems around the globe. San Juan Bosco Salesian Institute in Granada, Nicaragua, has sought a number of alternatives to continue providing quality education to its students, including utilizing technology for online education.
In countries where there are no large budgets for education, the challenges of providing education have been complicated. Although many countries do not have a consolidated national strategy for distance education, they have made significant efforts even with limited capabilities.
The Salesian Institute in Granada has started using interactive blogs and Google for Education G-Suite tools. Salesian educators are responding to the needs expressed by parents while ensuring that students are still receiving an enriching educational experience. Teachers have have tapped into a wealth of audiovisual resources to make the teaching and learning process more dynamic and interactive. Many teachers, although initially fearful, began recording their lessons and providing them to students.
The process has been complex because it also required engagement from parents, who now must work more closely in the learning process. The Salesian Institute has continued to monitor progress of online education and modify as needed to meet the needs of teachers, students and parents.
The Don Bosco Technical Center in Alafua, Samoa, is continuing education for poor youth. Samoa has no COVID-19 cases after a strict lockdown of the country started in March. Both boys and girls can access education at the Don Bosco Technical Center and all courses are open to both.
The Don Bosco Technical Center was established in 1989 as a second chance for education for many poor youth who were at risk because they were excluded from formal education. Over the years, the center has become well-known throughout Samoa and the Pacific for its excellent technical training and focus on integral student development. Originally established as a school for young men ages 16-22, the center opened enrollment to girls, who have now completed their first semester.
The center provides both classroom and hands-on learning to ensure students are prepared for the workforce. In 2019, the center extended the duration of the work experience for students from two weeks to four weeks. This has already brought success. Four students who have been studying plumbing and sheet metal impressed the Samoan Water Authority with their know-how and dedication, and they were offered work immediately.
The importance of a work-study experience has been backed by a study conducted by the Samoan Qualification Authority, which also found that the Salesian technical school has the highest number of graduates that go on to be enrolled in the private sector. The center places an emphasis on building confidence, self-esteem and teamwork, as well as a love of culture through singing and dancing.
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