The event was hosted by Mrs Laura Bush, Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD), and attended by over 30 First Ladies, as well as Ministers of Education and senior representatives of international organizations, civil society and the private sector.
Mrs Bush opened the Symposium by announcing that UNESCO would receive more than US$2 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to launch the UNLD Fund for Advancing Global Literacy. “It's the obligation of every government to educate its children, and I urge everyone here to make sure that all children worldwide can attend school”, Mrs Bush said in her remarks.
The first half of the Symposium was moderated by the Ambassador of the United States to UNESCO, Mrs Louise Oliver, and focused on assessing the main outcomes of the six Regional Conferences in Support of Global Literacy, which UNESCO organized in follow-up to the first White House Literacy Symposium in September 2006. Presenting the recommendations of the Regional Conferences, were: for the Doha meeting, Professor Mohammed Bougroum; for the Beijing meeting, Ms Chen Zhili, vice chairperson of the 11th People’s Congress Standing Committee, People’s Republic of China; for the Bamako meeting, Ms Touré Labbo Traoré, First Lady of Mali; for the New Delhi meeting, Ms Daggubati Purandeswari, Minister of State for Human Resource Development of India; for the Baku meeting, Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands; and for the meeting in Mexico City, Ms Margarita Zavala, First Lady of Mexico.
In the second half of the meeting, UNESCO, as leader and coordinator of the UNLD, presented two flagship literacy initiatives: the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE), which is providing a productive framework for new partnerships in countries with the largest literacy challenges; and the Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP), which is delivering a much clearer picture of real literacy needs. USAID Administrator and Director of US Foreign Assistance, Ms Henrietta Fore, also spoke at the event to underscore the US governments determined commitment to support global literacy efforts.
Mr Matsuura delivered a special address at the close of the Symposium. “We meet at a highly opportune moment. This week in New York the nations of the world gather to galvanize action to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and I will participate in this effort. It is, therefore, a most timely occasion to remind global leaders of the critical importance of literacy, as an essential means of learning and communication, and a key to all development”, he said in his speech.
“Since the first symposium of this kind in September 2006, we have made much progress in moving forward the literacy agenda”, the Director-General went on, highlighting how the UNESCO regional conferences had helped to increase political commitment and financial support for literacy, both on the part of developing countries and donors. In this context, Mr Matsuura welcomed the US initiative to create a UNLD Fund, urging other partners – governments, civil society and private sector donors – to raise investment in literacy through contributions to the Fund.
The Director-General signaled three key areas for UNESCO’s action in the coming years, based on needs identified in the UNLD mid-term report. These are: commitment and policy; high-quality programme delivery; and the mobilization of resources for literacy. “These priorities form the basis for UNESCO’s strategy for the second half of the Decade, as we seek to accelerate progress towards literacy for all”, Mr Matsuura said.
The Director-General announced that UNESCO would organize a special event in New York on 7 October, when the UNLD mid-term report will be debated at the UN General Assembly, to discuss the interface of literacy and development. He welcomed the participation of Mrs Bush in this event.
Mr Matsuura also announced that Mrs Bush would continue as Honorary Ambassador for the UNLD, through to its conclusion in 2012. “I know that her example will continue to inspire others to act on behalf of those who, in this twenty-first century, remain deprived of one of the most fundamental tools for empowerment”, he said.