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DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF UNESCO

Director-General calls for greater action on literacy at Global Action Week event

Director-General calls for greater action on literacy at Global Action Week event
  • © UNESCO/A. Wheeler

On 23 April 2008, UNESCO Director-General, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened a ‘Big Read’ event at the Organization’s Paris Headquarters as part of a week-long series of activities aimed at raising awareness of the global literacy challenge and galvanizing action to address it.

“The slogan of Global Action Week 2009*, ‘Open books, open doors’, aptly sums up the empowering nature of literacy. Literacy is not only a human right. It is also a prerequisite for personal independence, providing individuals with the confidence, knowledge and skills to make informed choices and better their lives. Literacy has widespread social, political, economic and cultural benefits without which we cannot reduce poverty, end exclusion, and improve health and incomes”, Mr Matsuura stated in his opening address.

However, the Director-General went on to underscore that despite the proven power of literacy, millions are still deprived of its benefits. In 2000, the international community committed to improve adult literacy levels by 50 percent by 2015, as one of the six Education for All (EFA) goals. “This promise is still far from being met”, Mr Matsuura said. “The number of adults without literacy skills is falling, but slowly. At the time of the Dakar World Education Forum in 2000, there were approximately 880 million illiterate adults in the world. By 2006, this figure had dropped to around 776 million, or 1 in 6 adults worldwide. According to the 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report, at the current rate of progress, 700 million adults will still be unable to read and write in 2015. This corresponds to a projected rate of adult literacy of about 87 percent. This is still far from the Dakar target of 92 percent to be achieved by that time-horizon”, the Director-General explained. He also pointed out that these headline figures masked deep inequalities between and within countries, with illiterate rates significantly higher among woman and rural populations.

“Achieving Education for All is a collective responsibility. It cannot be done without renewed efforts to raise literacy levels among young people and adults. Let us take advantage of this Global Action Week to call policy-makers to account. We must encourage them to invest in literacy and life skills programmes for youth and adults and enrich literate environments in order to build knowledge societies. This is all the more critical in the context of today’s financial and economic crisis. Investing in education, especially for society’s most vulnerable groups, is imperative for getting the world back on track”, Mr Matsuura urged.

Following the Director-General’s address, a number of prominent persons read out short stories highlighting the importance of literacy and education. Among the special guests were the winners of the UNESCO 2008 Confucius and 2007 King Sejong prizes for literacy. Participants were also invited to sign the ‘Big Book’, expressing their support for increased political commitment to literacy. Earlier in the afternoon, a round-table discussion was held on how to build, maintain and promote literate environments and lifelong learning, with the participation of literacy experts from around the world.


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* Global Action Week is an annual worldwide advocacy campaign established by the Global Campaign for Education, a coalition of NGOs and teachers unions, to remind the international community of its commitment to provide basic education for all (EFA) by 2015. UNESCO has actively supported this campaign from the beginning, by mobilizing its networks and partners and organizing activities around the world.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 070-2009
  • 25-04-2009
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