September, Basic Education and Literacy Month, takes on even greater importance for Rotary this year, as we come to see the profound impact of the pandemic on education and literacy.

Since March 2020, more than 100 countries closed schools for extended periods of time, leaving more than a billion students out of school - and many schools have yet to reopen. As a result, there is great concern that many children will not return to class once schools are reopened because of economic impact, increased pregnancies, and general disengagement from education. Yet we know that before the pandemic 773 million youth and adults could not read and write, and 250 million children failed to acquire basic literacy skills, according to UNESCO. Despite gains made in the last two decades to improve literacy, school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to reverse positive trends made toward greater school participation.

Rotarians and Rotaractors understand the critical importance of literacy as one of our Areas of Focus. The ability to read and write is an essential skill necessary to participate and contribute meaningfully to society.  Literacy empowers people, expands our opportunity to lead a productive and dignified life.  Literate people have access to better employment, higher quality  child and family health, and improved nutrition.  

BELRAG (Basic Education and Literacy Rotary Action Group) supports Rotarians and Rotaractors as they address these challenges to enable children to be confident readers and learners. BELRAG is offering three excellent opportunities to assist clubs and districts in their outreach to support literacy in their communities:

Cover of The Illustrated Encyclopedia

Access to books at home and in school promotes a love of reading and better performance in math, sciences and other subjects. BELRAG and RILM (Rotary India Literacy Mission) are partnering with Encyclopedia Britannica to offer Rotarians and Rotaractors a special edition of The Illustrated Encyclopedia which can be shipped globally. This single volume book in English, filled with engaging photos and graphics, is designed to inspire the curiosity of learners, age 8-108.  Endorsed by RI President Shekhar Mehta and specially published for Rotarians and Rotaractors, this is a tremendous resource for classrooms, libraries, after school, and adult education programs. BELRAG will provide teaching activities for each chapter to assist teachers and parents help engage students and guide them to learning more on the topics presented. Learn more about the Illustrated Encyclopedia.

Photo of Dover Rotary Traveling Tales Library Program (BELRAG Literacy Award recipient)

Literacy opportunities in every community  BELRAG Literacy Awards is an annual opportunity for Rotarians and Rotaractors to showcase their community literacy projects.  Four outstanding projects will be awarded $400 USD each - with at least one award reserved for a Rotaract project.  These awards are intended to promote local community literacy projects - reinforcing BELRAG’s belief that every club can and should be involved in actively supporting literacy in their own community. Applications are due by 30 September. Learn more about the Literacy Awards.

Photo of students participating in a reading program at Mondessa Youth Opportunities, an organization dedicated to educating high-achieving learners from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds in Nambia.

Quality early childhood literacy is the focus of Together We READ, the partnership between BELRAG and Save the Children.  We are pleased to announce Community Engagement grant opportunities for clubs in the U.S. Up to ten grants of $5,000 to $10,000 each will be awarded to clubs engaged with community partners to support high-quality early learning programs.  These grants can support projects supporting: school readiness, family literacy, access to quality books and learning resources, increasing community awareness of the importance of early literacy programs, or building capacity of educators and community to support healthy learning development. Learn more about Community Engagement Grants.

More information about these projects is available at www.BELRAG.org. Connect with BELRAG to learn how Rotarians and Rotaractors are involved in basic education and literacy or to promote your club’s BEL projects.