This year, the United Nations theme for International Literacy Day is ‘Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond’. The theme relates to a lifelong learning perspective, and therefore focuses on youth and adults.
The global pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges on many fronts, including youth and adult literacy. Many countries have adopted online learning in response, but marginalised people and those with disability often face challenges in accessing such platforms due to digital exclusion and other barriers.
As online platforms become increasingly popular as an alternative avenue for literacy teaching and learning, it is important to make such platforms more inclusive and accessible to all. To mark International Literacy Day, we have asked Australia Awards alumnus Sagar Prasai to share how he is contributing towards overcoming the literacy challenges faced by people with disability in Nepal.
Sagar has worked for more than a decade as an advocate for disability rights and inclusive education in Nepal. He now directs his own company, Diverse Patterns, which works to promote diversity and inclusion. In 2018, he participated in an Australia Awards Short Course on Inclusive Education at the Queensland University of Technology. With further support from an Australia Awards Alumni Disability Initiative Grant, Sagar has recently launched Learning Inclusion, an inclusive and accessible e-learning platform that provides courses designed to accommodate all users.
Due to COVID-19, virtual platforms are being increasingly used for education. What are some of the challenges people with disability can face when learning online?
“When we talk about literacy or inclusive education, we see a lot of focus on how to make physical learning spaces inclusively accessible. While this is good, there is also a need to pay attention to making digital learning platforms available and accessible to people with disability. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we teach and learn is changing—and it will continue to change. Online education systems are likely to continue to increase in importance and prevalence.
“Even though online learning opportunities are widely available, those with disability can struggle to be part of the learning ecosystem because of digital barriers.”
“For online learning to be fully accessible, it should be able to cater to the needs of users with different kinds of disabilities. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case, at least in Nepal.”
As an Australia Awards alumnus, how do you plan to overcome such challenges? How will you apply your Australian exposure and learning to achieve this?
“Through Learning Inclusion, we are trying to address the unique needs of people with disability. The platform adheres to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 principles of digital accessibility. We have included features like easier keyboard navigation and descriptions of all graphics for those who are blind or have low vision, and have ensured that the site is compatible with screen reader technology. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, we have also incorporated videos lectures with Nepali sign language and subtitles in Nepali and English. We currently have more than 150 active users, and half of them are people with disability.
“With an accessible and inclusive platform such as Learning Inclusion, the possibilities are endless for promoting literacy. I plan to make this platform rich with more courses so that people with disability can have equal access to these learnings. I hope that I will be able to draw on the excellent professional relationships with professors and staff at Queensland University of Technology and other community organisations that I developed through my Short Course in Australia to help me to implement my vision. I am planning to reach out to my relevant Australian networks in the hope that I can find collaboration opportunities for the universal cause of literacy and inclusive education.”
Finally, what is your key message on International Literacy Day this year?
“As we mark International Literacy Day amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential for all of us to further promote digital accessibility so that everyone has an equal opportunity for learning.
“When we talk about literacy, we should also think about how we can make teaching more inclusive so that no one is left behind.”
Australia Awards delivery for South and West Asia is managed by Scope Global on behalf of the Australian Government.