United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General opens UNESCO Regional Literacy Conference for Europe in Baku, Azerbaijan

From 13 to 16 May 2008, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, paid his third official visit to Azerbaijan on the occasion of the UNESCO Regional Literacy Conference for Europe, which was held in Baku under the auspices of Madam Mehriban Aliyeva, First Lady of Azerbaijan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

This was the fifth in a series of six Conferences that UNESCO is organizing within the framework of the United Nations Literacy Decade and the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE).

The Director-General and Madam Aliyeva opened the Conference at the Gülüstan Palace in the afternoon of 14 May. A message from President Ilham Aliyev was delivered by Mrs Fatima Abdullazade, Head of the Department of Human Affairs under the Presidential Administration. Also addressing the ceremony were the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Harif Pashayev and Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of The Netherlands, who delivered a keynote speech. Among the participants at the Conference were the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors, Princess Firyal of Jordan and former President of Iceland Mrs Finnbogadóttir, who moderated sessions on “Family Literacy and Intergenerational Learning” and “Literacy and Education for Sustainable development” respectively. Other participants included: Ministers and decision-makers from the region; representatives of multilateral and non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector; and literacy experts and practitioners from Europe and beyond.

In his address, the Director-General outlined the global literacy situation, before turning to the specific challenges facing Europe. “The countries represented here have high literacy rates, often over 95%. Schooling is virtually universal. While efforts are certainly needed to reach the some 15 million adults in Europe who still cannot read or write, the principal challenge is not one of numbers. Europe accounts for less than 2% of illiterate adults in the world. The serious challenge for Europe regards the level of literacy. A high proportion of people simply do not have the literacy skills they need for full social and economic participation”, the Director-General said, drawing attention to the fact that between one-third and two-thirds of adults do not attain the level of literacy required to meet the demands of daily life and work.

In this context, Mr Matsuura highlighted four important issues for consideration. The first was the quality of schooling. “Low learning achievement in primary and secondary education remains a serious concern in Europe, which must be addressed as the first step to raising literacy levels”, the Director-General said. The second issue was that of sustaining literacy. “A literate society is not merely a society with high literacy rates. It is a society where literacy skills are developed, nourished and used”, Mr Matsuura argued, pointing to how rapid technological advances and globalization were changing the meaning and uses of literacy. He stressed that “we must enable people everywhere to acquire the competencies they need to thrive in their own context”. The third issue the Director-General raised was that of equity and inclusion, where he highlighted the importance of improving national and international tools for measuring and evaluating literacy levels in order to gain a finer understanding of the different needs of learners and the difficulties they encounter. The final issue he emphasized was the need for countries to develop coherent and well-coordinated literacy strategies. “A variety of different actors and mechanisms for delivery are required to address the ever more complex and heterogeneous needs of learners in Europe. These partners must work productively together in a complementary manner, and programmes must be coordinated and monitored, with effective quality control”, the Director-General said.

On the margins of the Literacy Conference, Mr Matsuura spoke with Princess Laurentien, who also Chairs the Reading and Writing Foundation of the Netherlands, about the challenges facing European countries in the field of literacy, and how they could work together more closely in the future to raise awareness of these issues and promote partnerships in support of actions to provide quality educational to opportunities to all learners throughout life. The Director-General also held a roundtable meeting for senior political representatives attending the conference, where participants shared their views on how best to monitor and address the lack of functional literacy among large sections of the European population, in particular, but not only, among minority and immigrant groups.

While in Baku, the Director-General met with President Ilham Aliyev to discuss how to further reinforce the growing cooperation between UNESCO and Azerbaijan in education and culture, as well as their common intent to create a third pillar of collaboration in the field of the natural sciences. In particular, Mr Matsuura pledged UNESCO’s full support to plans to develop a new science policy.

During his visit, the Director-General held a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, Mr Artur Rasizadeh, as well as a collective meeting with senior members of the Government: the Minister of Education, Mr Misir Mardanov; the Minister for Youth and Sports, Mr Azad Rahimov; the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr Abulfaz Garayev; the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources, Mr Huseyngulu Bagirov; the Minister of Health, Mr Oqtay Shiraliyev; the Chair of the Committee of Family, Women and Children, Madam Hieran Huseynova; the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Vaquif Sadiqov; the Deputy Minister of Communications, Mr Elmir Velizadé; and the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Elmar Qasimov. The Director-General also had the occasion to speak with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Elmar Mammadyarov.

On 14 May, the Director-General received an Honourable Member Diploma from the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science. The ceremony was held in the recently renovated Institute of History in the presence of the First Lady of Azerbaijan, the Royal Princesses of The Netherlands and Jordan, and Mrs Finnbogadóttir, and presided by the President of the Academy, Mr Mahmud Karimov. In his address, Mr Matsuura again underscored his hope that UNESCO and Azerbaijan would extend their cooperation in the sciences. He notably referred to the work underway to designate Azerbaijan’s first Man and the Biosphere reserve.

On 15 May, Mr Matsuura accompanied the President and the First Lady on a tour of the construction site for the new Mugham Centre, the first stone of which they had laid together on Mr Matsuura’s previous visit to Azerbaijan in August 2005. The Director-General also participated with the President and Madam Aliyeva in the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Carpet Museum, which will be constructed alongside the Centre. Earlier the same day, Mr Matsuura had had the opportunity to watch the Azeri art of carpet-making at the “Azerilme” club.

Mr Matsuura was accompanied throughout his visit by the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to UNESCO, Mrs Eleonora Husseinova.

Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 057-2008 -  Publication Date: 19-05-2008

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