UNESCO literacy prize is awarded to programme enabling education of persons with disabilities in India

The ‘National Institute of Open Schooling’ from India wins the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize 2021 for its programme ‘Enabling education of persons with disabilities through technology enabled inclusive learning material, with specific focus on Indian Sign language based content’.

The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) is an autonomous organisation under the Indian Ministry of Education aiming to provide quality education to all through open and distance learning. It focuses on the educational needs of persons with disabilities, particularly deaf and hard-of-hearing learners, and other minority groups.

The programme focuses on the use of digital tools and local language to help persons with disability providing learners the option to access Indian Sign Language (ISL)-based content. The programme notably developed videos in sign language version in seven subjects at secondary level and senior secondary level as well as an ISL dictionary, made available through the NIOS portal.

Since its inception, the National Institute of Open Schooling is committed towards providing a learning environment which is inclusive and accessible to all. With the help of technology, NIOS was able to disseminate learning content to more learners and provided flexible opportunities to learn anywhere at any time for the entire duration of the course, making it possible for learners to study at their own pace.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, NIOS provided learners with online educational support throughout the year using various online platforms in addition to delivering a one-hour live TV programme in Indian Sign Language twice a week. Learners who lacked access to consistent internet connectivity due to remote locations were able to download learning materials either through minimal broadband, or satellite transmission.

The programme embraced inclusive distance and technology-enabled literacy learning by adopting different high-tech (online platforms and apps) and low-tech (TV and radio) solutions and has followed different strategies to reach out to the deaf and hard-of-hearing learners across the country.

By allowing learners to learn in their native language, the programme considerably improves their confidence in expressing themselves fully in sign language. With the effective integration of ICT, particularly in sign language, the enrolment of persons with disabilities and deaf and hard-of-hearing learners is consistently increasing in academic programmes of NIOS. Since 2018, 24 285 learners benefited from the programme.

The National Institute of Open Schooling hopes to reach out to more and multifarious learners with a special focus on strategies for persons with disabilities. They aspire to develop more Indian Sign Language (ISL)-based content from grades 1-12 in remaining subjects in both academic and skill-oriented courses, produce assessments in sign language that suits the language needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing learners and foster stronger advocacy and promotion.

To celebrate International Literacy Day, the National Institute of Open Schooling encourages everyone to promulgate Sign Language resources so that more learners are able to benefit from the content materials developed.

This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be awarded to six outstanding literacy programmes from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Mexico and South Africa on the occasion of International Literacy Day. UNESCO will host a two-day online International Conference on 8 and 9 September. A special session with the Laureates of this year’s Prizes 2021 will be held on 9 September highlighting ‘inclusive distance and digital learning’.

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