41 countries tackle literacy challenges
What are the obstacles to progress in literacy? How can we quicken the pace and address challenges? What partnerships are possible to make more people literate? These and other questions framed a two-day discussion at UNESCO Headquarters on the occasion of International Literacy Day.
Under the theme “Reaching the 2015 Literacy Target: Delivering on the promise”, education ministers and representatives of the 41 countries furthest away from reaching the Education For All goals, gathered at a High Level Round Table on Literacy on 6 and 7 September 2012. Their aim: to assess their literacy challenges and try to overcome them. Representatives of NGOs, civil society, private partners and UN agencies were also present.
“The main problem for the illiterate population is that the job market exerts a much stronger pull than education”, said the Iraq representative; “A programme providing an allowance to literacy students has shown positive results”.
The role of international institutions, government programmes, private donors, NGOs and many other partners were scrutinized in an effort to share good practices and make ineffective strategies known.
Pakistan was worried that the private donor community had not met its pledges – a sentiment echoed by a number of other delegates. The Moroccan representative suggested the reason was technical: education was a long-term investment and its results difficult to quantify quickly and efficiently. India added that any perspective failing to present education as a long-term investment was bound to fail.
While ongoing challenges were the main focus, successful initiatives and promising results were also discussed and shared. Mexico outlined fruitful initiatives, chief among which was locating common interests with private partners. Senegal noted that when countries adequately prioritize education and literacy, private partners and NGOs tend to follow, an observation supported by a representative from Intel.
Technological advances are also a great opportunity for spreading education and information, as the Nokia representative pointed out: the potential of mobile learning is as widespread as cell phone usage and may be key “to stretching our idea of learning to include time spent outside of the classroom… we must go beyond adult learning, to 24/7 learning!”
At the prizegiving ceremony in honour of the 2012 UNESCO Literacy Prizes laureates, Director-General Irina Bokova spoke of the initiatives recognized for their outstanding work as being “learning at its most relevant and at its most sustainable…There is no better investment than education.” singer A’salfo from the Ivory Coast was nominated as Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of his work for peace, tolerance and empowerment via education in his native Ivory Coast. A concert with his band, Magic System, concluded the evening. The ceremony was a powerful reminder that literacy is something to be pursued - and also celebrated.