LIFE 2005-2015: UNESCO’s new initiative for literacyUNESCO’s new Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) was launched today during the 33rd session of the Organization’s General Conference. Its objective: to help reduce by half the rate of adult illiteracy in the world by 2015.
Some 771 million adults in the world today are illiterate, a large majority of them women and girls. In addition, approximately 103 million children have no access to school and are therefore not learning to read, write or count. About 85% of illiterate people are concentrated in 34 countries*, particularly in rural areas. The LIFE strategy will help accelerate the literacy drive in countries where the rate of illiteracy is higher than 50% and/or the number of illiterate people is more than 10 million.
Literacy is an indispensable prerequisite to gain access to information about health, environment, education and employment. But to be effective, literacy programmes must take into account the specific social and cultural characteristics of each country, and the personal and social aspirations of individuals. One of LIFE’s challenges will therefore be to boost the capacity of countries to create their own programmes, train their teachers, develop educational material and devise evaluation methods.
The strategy will be implemented in three phases, starting in 2006 for the first group of countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Haiti, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal and Yemen), then 2008 and 2010 for the second and third groups respectively.
“For LIFE to be successful, partnership is essential,” said UNESCO Director-General Koďchiro Matsuura. “The partners already may be active in literacy work but others may be new actors keen to make things happen. The important thing is to bring new resources and fresh energy to address the literacy challenge and for everyone of work together towards the same end, namely the progressive eradication of illiteracy.”
LIFE will thus rely on numerous partners: governments, the private sector, NGOs, civil society, regional and international networks of literacy experts, media, educational institutions and participants in two other ongoing UNESCO initiatives within the framework of Education for All (Teacher Training Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa and EDUCAIDS, the Global Initiative on Education and HIV/AIDS).
The initiative will emphasize South-South cooperation among countries. Such partnerships will be facilitated by setting up a UNESCO Literacy Portal for exchanging information and organizing forums.
LIFE is designed to further the goals of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), which is coordinated by UNESCO and is a component of the global drive to achieve Education for All by 2015. It will contribute to reaching goals set in the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action (including reducing the rate of illiteracy by 50% and reaching gender parity in education). These objectives furthermore coincide with the United Nations Millenium Development Goals.
The launch of LIFE took place on World Teachers Day. To mark the Day, Mr Matsuura, Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, and Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, co-signed a message stressing the “urgent need to improve teaching and learning conditions, to retain skilled teachers and to attract good candidates to become teachers.” Also marking the Day, Mr Matsuura inaugurated an exhibition on the theme of “Education for All” at UNESCO Headquarters.
*Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Yemen.
Photo © UNESCO/Dominique Roger