The Director-General of UNESCO and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah host Regional Conference on Literacy Challenges in the Arab States in Doha, Qatar

From 12 to 14 March 2007 Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation and UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, hosted a Regional Conference on Literacy Challenges in the Arab States in Doha, Qatar.

This was the first of a series of six Regional Conferences in Support of Global Literacy that UNESCO will be organizing over the next two years within the framework of the UN Literacy Decade (2003-2012) and UNESCO’s Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE).

“The goal of this Conference is not only to give literacy the profile it deserves on the agendas of national governments and international partners. Above all it is to make a real and measurable impact on the life of their people, thus contributing to sustainable human development and poverty reduction”, Mr Matsuura underlined in his address to the opening ceremony. “Our aim is to build cooperation among stakeholders, and mobilize partners and resources for concrete interventions at the country level.”

Turning to the specific literacy challenges in the Arab States Region, the Director-General highlighted that “while significant progress had been made in recent decades, there are still more than 58 million adults – that is 34% of the adult population – who cannot read or write”. He also pointed out that, “an additional 6.5 million children do not go to school in the Arab States Region, and have therefore little chance of acquiring basic literacy skills.”

Mr Matsuura underscored UNESCO’s commitment to helping Arab States address their literacy needs. He drew particular attention to UNESCO’s LIFE initiative, which is currently being implemented in those countries that face the greatest challenges – namely, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan and Yemen. However, Mr Matsuura emphasized that UNESCO’s support also must be met by increased commitment by Arab States themselves, as well as by greater investment by donors. “Financing for basic education in general, and for literacy in particular, must be scaled up, especially for those countries furthest from the EFA goals.”

Also addressing the opening ceremony were Her Highness Sheikha Mozah, Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva, First Lady of Azerbaijan and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Mrs Asma al-Assad, First Lady of Syria, Mrs Andrée Lahoud, First Lady of Lebanon, and Dr Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan, President of UNESCO’s General Conference. The ceremony, held in the presence of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, was attended by over 300 conference participants, including Ministers, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors, representatives of multilateral agencies, international and regional NGOs, universities, foundations and donors, as well as literacy experts and practitioners from across the region.

On the morning of 13 March, Mr Matsuura participated in a special Round Table for First Ladies to discuss the latter’s partnership with UNESCO in advancing global literacy. The First Ladies of Qatar, Azerbaijan, Syria, Lebanon and Sudan identified what they saw as the key literacy challenges in the region, as well the successful programmes they had been promoting to address them.

They drew particular attention to the problem of female illiteracy, especially in rural areas, urging the importance of developing local solutions that respond to learner needs and aspirations. They also spoke of the challenge of providing education in conflict and post-conflict situations, highlighting the important role of education in building peace, tolerance and mutual understanding. Mr Matsuura said that he was deeply encouraged by the work that the First Ladies had been doing for literacy both regionally and globally, arguing that they had a unique opportunity to reach out to people by promoting good practices and championing the needs of the excluded, especially girls and women.

In the afternoon, Mr Matsuura held a round table for Ministers of the region. Discussions focused on the need for timely and quality statistics as the basis for effective policy-making and planning. Mr Matsuura also spoke with Ministers on the global and regional reviews of EFA progress scheduled for 2007/2008, as well as other major upcoming EFA events. He announced his plans to hold a Ministerial Round Table on Education and Economic Development in mid-October during the 34th session of UNESCO’s General Conference.

During his visit to Qatar Mr Matsuura held bilateral meetings with His Highness the Emir, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah and Her Highness Asma al-Assad of Syria. He further attended the second board meeting of the Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) foundation, chaired by Her Highness Sheikha Almayassa.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokeswoman
  • Source:Flash Info N°041-2007
  • 16-03-2007
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