TOWARDS LIFELONG EDUCATION FOR ALL — LITERACY

1951-1952
Regional rural fundamental education centres opened: CREFAL in Mexico (1951) and ASFEC in Egypt (1952)

1960
Second World Conference on Adult Education (Montreal, Canada) proposes to launch a massive campaign for the eradication of illiteracy

1962
Adoption by the General Conference of UNESCO of the principle of a universal literacy campaign

1963
Creation of an International Committee of Experts on Literacy (1963-1966) and then the International Consultative Committee for Illiteracy (1966-1974)

FUNDAMENTAL EDUCATION


Before 1945 the very idea of literacy was far from the immediate concerns of governments and educators. (1) ‘I lectured for years on education, but cannot recall having made, before 1945, a single reference to the fact that half the world was illiterate. I doubt if I even knew.’ wrote Beeby, the second Assistant Director-General for Education. (2) Measuring the size of the issue, and as part of the work of the Preparatory Commission for UNESCO in 1946, the nascent organization requested a Special Committee (3) to study in depth the new concept of fundamental education. The report of this Committee published in 1947 under the title of Fundamental Education: Common Ground for All Peoples stated that ‘Fundamental education is ideally a part of democracy and must be education of the people, by the people’. The relation to democratization and an appeal for participation are clearly expressed in this report which was in some cases the mirror, in others the precursor, of the theses of the leading ideologists of the Third World, Gandhi, Paulo Freire and Nyerere.

Fundamental education encompassed not only the three R’s, but also the introduction to such basic knowledge as was required for the purpose of economic and social development. It was conceived as ‘that kind of minimum and general education which aims to help children and adults who do not have the advantages of formal education, to understand the problems of their immediate environment and their rights and duties as citizens and individuals, and to participate more effectively in the economic and social progress of their community’. (4)

In keeping with these initial policy guidelines, UNESCO sought to sensitize and mobilize public opinion, voluntary associations and the organs of government. Regional meetings were held in 1949 to study needs and define objectives for fundamental education activities in Asia and Latin America, and pilot projects (5) were launched in co-operation with sister agencies – WHO, ILO and FAO – in China, Haiti, Tanganyika and Peru. In addition, the Organization proposed to governments that some of their projects in this field become ‘associated projects’. Information exchange, especially by means of articles and the Bulletin of Fundamental Education, (6) was a driving force in this field.

Direct literacy activities as such, constituted only a part of fundamental education projects, which as of 1958 were integrated with community development projects. Action in the literacy field had several main thrusts: seeking the most efficient methods to teach reading and writing in the mother tongue and designing appropriate materials, in particular producing reading materials in indigenous languages, (7) the use of audio-visual materials, (8) and the training of specialists. To this end, two regional teacher-training centres were set up, in co-operation with sister agencies, in Patzcuaro (Mexico) for Latin America (CREFAL) and Sirs-El-Layyan (Egypt) for the Arab States (ASFEC). CREFAL, Patzcuaro, Mexico, 1962.

1950s
LITERACY IN THE WORLD

Continuity in perceiving the challenge, evolution of estimates since...

Is world illiteracy on the increase? le Courrier The World Census of Population which is to be taken around 1960 should help to answer one of the vitally important questions of our time: Is the world’s illiterate population increasing, in spite of the remarkable progress made in many countries towards the goal of universal primary education? The number of adult illiterates (people over 15 years of age who cannot both read and write in any language) in the world around 1950 has been estimated at about 700 million – slightly over two-fifths of the world’s population at that age level. This figure is based on an analysis of recent census results from 75 countries, supplemented by estimates for the other countries, using outdated or incomplete census data, school enrolment figures and other relevant information obtained by UNESCO. Detailed results of this study, including methods of defining and counting illiterates and analyses of data for some 65 individual countries are presented in a new UNESCO publication: World Illiteracy at Mid-Century.

Continent and region Population Adults
illiteracy
Estimated extent of illiteracy in the world (around 1950), by continents and regions: more rural than town dwellers, more women than men, more old people than young [...] and population growth threatens to offset progress achieved.

What being literate means A committee of experts on standardization of educational statistics, convened by UNESCO in November 1951, recommended the following definitions of ‘literacy’ and ‘semi-literacy’: A person is considered literate who can both read with understanding and write a short, simple statement on his everyday life. A person is considered semi-literate, who can read with understanding, but not write, a short simple statement on his everyday life. Until international recommendations on the measurement of illiteracy are generally adopted by governments, statistical data collected and published by them will continue to be based on different criteria – a fact which limits the international comparability of such statistics.

Extract from an article by Bangnee A. Liu, Chief, Statistical Division, UNESCO, in The UNESCO Courier, March 1958.

Total
(all ages)
(millions)
Adults (15 years old and over)
(millions)
Extent of illiteracy
%
Number of illiterates
(millions)
AFRICA.....
Northern Africa.....
Tropical and Southern
Africa...
AMERICA....
Northern America.....
Middle America....
South America...
ASIA....
South West Asia...
South Central Asia...
South East Asia...
East Asia...
EUROPE(inc.U.S.S.R.)...
Northern and
Western Europe...
Central Europe....
Southern Europe...
OCEANIA...
WORLD TOTAL....

198
65

134
330
168
51
111
1376
62
466
171
677
579

133
128
131
13
2496

120
40

80
223
126
30
67
830
37
287
102
404
405

102
96
95
9
1587

80-85
85-90

80-85
20-21
3-4
40-42
42-44
60-65
75-80
80-85
65-70
45-50
7-9

1-2
2-3
20-21
10-11
43-45

98-104
34-36

64-68
45-47
4-5
12-13
28-29
510-540
28-30
230-240
68-72
180-200
28-36

1-2
2-3
19-20
1
690-720

1952
ITALY FIGHTS THE BATTLE AGAINST
ILLITERACY
With the end of the last war, the Italian Government undertook an extensive campaign against illiteracy in southern Italy. Since 1947, when a special law was passed, the Ministry of Public Education has set up 11,000 public courses which have been attended by some 300,000 adults and young people. This government action was paralleled by the creation of a series of private institutions, one of the most outstanding of which is the National League for the Struggle against Illiteracy (UNLA).

The work of the League against illiteracy has awakened great interest. It has obtained the moral and financial support of numerous national and international organizations. Recently, UNESCO decided to include the National League for the Struggle against Illiteracy among its Associated projects in fundamental education, and will provide information to guide it in its work. Reciprocally, the League will inform UNESCO regularly of its progress and accomplishments. An international expert from UNESCO is now in Calabria helping to organize specific methods of dealing with students’ questions and classroom discussions.

From The UNESCO Courier, March 1952.

Le Courrier

Two short documentary films, Non Basta Soltanto l’Alfabeto and Cristo non si e Fermato a Eboli which, in 1959, won the First Prize at the Venice Film Festival, show these efforts.

Roggiano Gravina, Calabria

In 1969, UNLA (Unione Nazionale per la Lotta contro l’Analfabetismo) published ‘Storia di un’ idea’, recording their activities from 1947 to 1957 in text, photographs and still shots from the two films. The text was written by Anna Lorenzetto, Vice-President for many years of the International Committee for the Development of Adult Education.

Lionel Elvin Lionel Elvin
(United Kingdom)
Director of the Department of Education, UNESCO, from 1950 to 1956

A community that makes a total effort towards its development, relating what this generation does to what the coming generation is learning to do, will be both more prosperous and more happily coherent than one that divides the home and the village unnaturally from the school.[...] Fundamental education must be run not only as part of one larger, whole, community development, but also of another larger whole of education.

Quarterly Bulletin of Fundamental Education and Adult Education, UNESCO, Vol. IX, No. 2, 1957

René Maheu
(France)
Director-General of UNESCO from 1962 to 1974

The number of illiterates is rising by 20 to 25 million persons each year according to certain estimates. These figures speak for themselves and need little comment. They mean that in our era of unprecedented advances in science and technology, millions of men and women are condemned to live on the fringe of modern civilization. They mean that a large portion of the intellectual potential of mankind is being lost forever. Such a state of affairs is not only a disgrace and a scandal on the grounds of human conscience and justice but in terms of economics is the height of absurdity and a sheer waste of manpower.

Address to the 53rd Conference of the Interparliamentary Union, Copenhagen, 1964


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FOOTNOTES:

((1) With some exceptions however. A mass adult literacy campaign was launched by Lenin in 1919. In memory of this, in 1969 the USSR created the Krupskaya Literacy Prize. In 1944, when Jaime Torres Bodet was Minister of Education in Mexico, he declared ‘war on ignorance’.

(2) C. E. Beeby, The Quality of Education in Developing Countries, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1966.

(3) The Special Committee on fundamental education comprised researchers and personalities such as the anthropologist Margaret Mead, Jaime Torres Bodet, Frank Laubach, author of a method used in the Philippines whereby each learner taught another learner (each one, teach one) and Joseph Lauwerys, co-author with Margaret Read of a report Mass Education in African Society for the British Colonial Office in 1944. This Committee launched the first world survey on illiteracy and literacy education.

(4) A Definition of Fundamental Education, UNESCO/ED/94, 1951.

(5) Julian Huxley advocated a scientific approach: the projects were contrasted in objectives and approach and were evaluated. In Haiti, the Marbial Valley with about 40,000 inhabitants was a totally isolated area, suffering the effects of ignorance, poverty and famine. The Swiss anthropologist Alfred Métraux collaborated in the preparation of a community development project in which several United Nations. agencies co-operated. The UNESCO Centre’s action included the opening of a primary school, a dispensary and an experimental farm Open-air classes for adults were organized in twenty locations. In China, at Nankin and then at Szechuan, the health education campaign is still famous for its use of film strips drawn directly on the cellulose. (Cf. The Healthy Village, UNESCO, 1952).

(6) Which later became the Quarterly Bulletin of Fundamental Education and Adult Education, then the Quarterly Adult Education Bulletin. One of the most successful monographs was Methods of Teaching Adults to Read and Write, UNESCO, 1956.

(7)The language problem and the choice of language has always been crucial for literacy education. The latest work to date: A. Ouane, Vers une culture multilingue de l’éducation, UIE, 1995. (In French)

(8) Chiefly the use of audiovisual aids (Messina training course on the use of audiovisual methods, 1953), use of cinema and radio (Cinema and Radio Vans for Basic Education, UNESCO, 1949), etc.