Director-General attends UNESCO Regional Conference in Support of Global Literacy in Beijing

Director-General attends UNESCO Regional Conference in Support of Global Literacy in Beijing
  • © UNESCO/A. Umarov

From 31 July to 1 August, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura attended the UNESCO Regional Conference in Support of Global Literacy hosted in Beijing by the People’s Republic of China.

Aimed at addressing the literacy challenges in East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, this was the second in a series of regional and sub-regional meetings that UNESCO is organizing within the framework on the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) and the UNESCO Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE).

Mr Matsuura opened the Conference alongside the First Ladies of Indonesia, Mrs Ani Bambang Yudhoyono, and Mongolia, Mrs Onin Enkhbayar, the State Councillor of China, Mrs Chen Zhili, the Minister of Education of China, Professor Zhou Ji, and the Chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board, Mr Zhang Xinsheng. The meeting also brought together some 150 policy-makers, planners, representatives of civil society, academics and researchers, and members of bilateral and multilateral organizations from 23 countries of the sub-region.

In his inaugural address, the Director-General recognized the progress that the sub-region had made since 1990 in tackling illiteracy, noting that the overall rate of literacy had increased by almost 10 per cent to around 91.7% today. He pointed in particular to the tremendous progress China had made in reducing illiteracy, citing the country’s effort’s as “an example to be followed”.

However, Mr Matsuura underscored that deep inequalities still existed both between countries, and within them, especially between urban and rural populations and between men and women. “Over 70.4% of illiterate adults in the sub-region are women”, the Director-General stated, arguing that “this has a negative impact on the learning opportunities of the entire family”.

Describing the provision for literacy for all as “a moral and development imperative for governments”, the Director-General called for a three-pronged approach. “National governments”, he said, “must strengthen efforts to expand education and improve its quality, to scale up youth and adult learning opportunities, and to develop literate environments”. Mr Matsuura likewise called for national funding for basic education to be scaled up, and the budgetary allocations to literacy significantly increased.

The Director-General also called on donors to do more in support of literacy, commenting that while new pledges to basic education had been made, external aid remained insufficient to meeting the EFA goals. “The strong focus on universal primary education will undoubtedly reduce the flow of illiterates from poor schools or lack of schooling. But we cannot in all conscience abandon millions of adults and young people to a fate of lifelong illiteracy. This is unacceptable in the 21st century”, Mr Matsuura declared.

On the margins of the literacy conference, the Director-General met bilaterally with the First Ladies of Indonesia and Mongolia. He also convened a Ministerial Round Table for Ministers and Vice-Ministers of Education from the sub-region to discuss the specific literacy challenges their countries were facing and the initiatives currently underway to address them.

During his visit to Beijing, Mr Matsuura held talks with senior Chinese Government Officials to discuss UNESCO’s cooperation with China, as well as the latter’s development agenda more broadly. His conversations with the State Councillor and the Minister of Education focused on efforts underway to promote literacy in China’s rural areas, including plans to strengthen the International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (INRULED). Mr Matsuura’s discussions with the Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Wan Gang, concentrated on ways of tackling the environmental issues raised by China’s rapid social and economic development. His talks with the Minister of Culture, Mr Sun Jiazheng, likewise addressed the consequences of economic development, and in particular increasing urbanization, this time on the county’s rich cultural heritage. Both agreed on the need to balance modernization with heritage preservation, a subject also at the heart of the Director-General’s meeting with the Mayor of Beijing, Mr Wang Qishan.

On the evening of 31st July, Mr Matsuura attended a performance by the China Disabled People’s Performing Troupe, which he had recently named UNESCO Artist for Peace. In presenting the diploma to the lead dancer, Ms Tai Lihua, the Director-General paid tribute to the Troupe’s international achievements saying it had “become a symbol of the hopes and dreams of disabled people world wide”. He noted that the Troupe would provide particular support to UNESCO’s activities in the field of Inclusion and Quality Learning Enhancement, helping to raise awareness of the obstacles faced by disabled persons in the area of education and to promote effective policies to deal with them. “We cannot achieve the Education for All Goals or the MDGs without taking into account the special needs of the estimated 650 million persons – 10% of the world’s population – with disabilities”, he stated.

While in Beijing, Mr Matsuura also met with members of the United Nations Country Team in China and with the staff of the UNESCO Office Beijing.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokeswoman
  • Source:Flash Info N° 104-2007
  • 07-08-2007
Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific