United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
White House Conference gives new momentum to global literacy drive, says UNESCO Director-General

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, has hailed this week’s White House Conference on Global Literacy an outstanding success that will inject “vital new momentum into the drive for literacy worldwide”.

The Conference, organized and hosted by the First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush, in her capacity as Honorary Ambassador of the UN Literacy Decade (2003-2012), took place in New York on Monday 18 September. The President of the United States, George W. Bush, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings also participated, along with 32 first ladies and spouses of world leaders, 41 ministers of education from around the world, and numerous other personalities.

In her opening address, Mrs Bush recognized UNESCO’s role in promoting literacy worldwide. “Today’s conference,” she said, “is a project of UNESCO’s and the United States Department of Education and the State Department. So I want to thank you very much for everything you’ve done to facilitate today’s conference.”

President Bush echoed the First Lady’s comments, stressing that “a literacy initiative will help spread prosperity and peace”. UNESCO, he said, was a “vital organization” in this task, and a key partner with whom the United States wants to work. President Bush also called upon all partners to invest in literacy, and highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships for success in this area.

During three discussion panels held during the day, conference participants were shown nine programmes from different countries (Afghanistan, Brazil, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Egypt, India, Mali, South Africa, USA) showing how literacy can be achieved.

The first panel, covering “Mother-Child Literacy and Intergenerational Learning”, included the following speakers: Perri Klass, President and Medical Director, Reach Out and Read National Center (USA); Maria Diarra Keita, Founding Director, Institute for Popular Education (Mali); and Florence Molefe, Facilitator, Family Literacy Project (South Africa). This panel was moderated by Margaret Spellings, US Secretary of Education.

The second, moderated by Randall Tobias, Director of Foreign Assistance and Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, dealt with the theme of “Literacy for Health”. Panelists included: Hasina Mojadidi, Instructional Development Coordinator, Learning for Life (Afghanistan); Gonzalo Fiorilo, Director, ALFALIT (Bolivia); and Salah Sabri Sebeh, Head of Education Sector, Caritas (Egypt).

The third panel, moderated by Gerri Elliott, a Corporate Vice President of Microsoft, focused on “Literacy for Economic Self-Sufficiency”. Panelists included: Regina Celia Esteves de Siqueira, Chief Executive Officer, ALFASOL (Brazil); Krishna Mohan Rao, Deputy Director, Directorate of Adult Education, Government of Andra Pradesh (India); and Koumba Boly Barry, Coordinator, Directorate for Development and Cooperation, Programme for Literacy and Training (Burkina Faso).

During the Conference, Mrs Bush also announced that the United States would contribute US$ 1 million to the Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP), a UNESCO initiative to improve the accuracy of global data on literacy. The Director-General of UNESCO welcomed the announcement. “Improved monitoring,” he said, “will be absolutely essential to our success in meeting international literacy targets.”

Mr Matsuura also announced that to maintain the momentum created by the White House Conference, UNESCO would organize a series of high-level Regional Conferences during 2007 and 2008. “These conferences,” he said, “will address specific regional challenges in literacy with the aim of building cooperation among stakeholders and mobilizing resources for concrete interventions at country level.”

The first regional Literacy Conference, for the Arab region, will be hosted in Qatar from 12 to 14 March, 2007, by Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned, UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. Azerbaijan, Mali and Costa Rica will also host regional conferences.

Source Press Release N°2006-119
Website 1 (URL) UNESCO’s literacy programmes
Website 2 (URL) Literacy statistics
Website 3 (URL) White House Conference on Global Literacy
Publication Date 21 Sep 2006
© UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 34815