The Director-General celebrates International Literacy Day at UNESCO Headquarters

The Director-General celebrates International Literacy Day at UNESCO Headquarters
  • © UNESCO/A. Wheeler

On 8 September 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, celebrated International Literacy Day at the Organisation’s Headquarters in the presence of Mrs Laura Bush, Honorary Ambassador for the UN Literacy Decade.

The celebrations comprised the awarding of the UNESCO International Literary Prizes, the launch of the 2009 tour by the ‘Camion des Mots’ (word truck), and a lecture on the theme of ‘empowerment’ by renowned expert on literacy and development Dr Lalage J. Bown from the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom).

Ambassador George Anastassopoulos, President of UNESCO’s General Conference, Ambassador Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaï, Chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board, Mr Abdelwahid A. Yousif, representing the international Jury for the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes, Mrs Shi Shuyun, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the People's Republic of China to UNESCO, and Mr Cho Il-hwan, Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of the Republic of Korea to UNESCO, also attended the event.

Emphasizing that promoting global literacy is a top priority for UNESCO, the Director-General noted that this year, International Literacy Day puts the spotlight on the empowering role of literacy and its importance for participation, citizenship and development.

“Literacy remains by far the most neglected goal on the Education for All (EFA) agenda. Given the importance of adult literacy to education, health, nutrition, income and employment, this lack of progress puts the whole development agenda at risk, argued Mr Matsuura, and continued: “this is why International Literacy Day is so important. It is an opportunity to focus attention on the world’s literacy needs. It is an occasion to mobilize governments and international partners to do more to address this challenge. It is also a time to celebrate those initiatives and policies that are already making a difference, especially to the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.” He went on to congratulate the winners of this year’s UNESCO Literacy Prizes, which he said “stood out for their innovation, excellence and relevance to learner needs.”

In the afternoon of 7 September, Mr Matsuura had participated in an informal round table organized by Ms Bush to discuss the literacy programmes developed by this year’s prize winners and explore how they could be adapted in other countries and contexts.

Continuing, the Director-General highlighted how the UN Literacy Decade has boosted the profile of literacy on the global development agenda, and paid tribute to the “tremendous contribution” Mrs Laura Bush has made in her role as Honorary ambassador for the Decade. He also mentioned the six regional conferences convened by UNESCO following the symposium Mrs Bush organized in 2006, which “marked a major breakthrough in the international community’s engagement with literacy issues.”

Mr Matsuura assured the audience that UNESCO would continue to drive this momentum forward referring to the new international strategic framework that UNESCO and its partners have developed to guide efforts during the second half of the UN Literacy Decade.

In conclusion, Mr Matsuura underscored: “It is simply unconscionable that one-sixth of the world’s adult population cannot read or write. In today’s knowledge-based societies, this represents a gross denial of freedom and opportunity. Let this Day therefore be an occasion to reaffirm our commitment to overcoming this injustice and making literacy a reality for all.”

In her speech, Mrs Laura Bush paid tribute to the Director-General’s “strong commitment to literacy and all he has done for the cause worldwide”. She emphasized the importance and benefits of literacy, arguing that “literacy is at the core of sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.” Calling for “global participation for a global goal,” Mrs Bush highlighted the “transformation power of literacy,” and underscored different ways we can innovate in order to “promote literacy for all”.

Mrs Laura Bush, Ambassador Shi Shuyun of China, and Ambassador Cho Il-hwan of Korea, joined Mr Matsuura in awarding the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes. The winners of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize were: ‘Tin Tua Literacy and Non-Formal Education Programme’ (Burkina Faso) and ‘Nirantar “Khabar Lahariya”’ Project (India). The winners of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy were: SERVE Afghanistan – ‘Pashai Language Development Project’, and the Municipal Literacy Coordinating Council, Municipality of Agoo (Philippines). The Ministry of Education of the Kingdom of Bhutan received the Honourable Mention of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.

Following the awards, the Director-General and Mrs Laura Bush climbed into the ‘Camion des Mots’ (word truck), a French initiative which brings educative tools to children in need, and met children participating in “Un cahier, un crayon” (a notebook, a pencil), an initiative through which children collect basic learning materials to send to developing countries (this year to Burkina Faso).

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 160-2009
  • 10-09-2009
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