“My first student was my mother”, jury member tells UNESCO Director-General

At a luncheon meeting on 8 July with the jury of the UNESCO International Literacy King Sejong and Confucius Prizes Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, reiterated the high priority she attached to women’s education, especially literacy.

The five literacy professionals had just met to select the winners of the annual UNESCO King Sejong Prize and Confucius Literacy Prizes, sponsored by the Government of the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China.  

Kim Shinil, ex-Education Minister, Republic of Korea, spoke on his fifth grade assignment to teach five non-literate persons to read. “My first pupil,” he reminisced, “was my mother.” To be literate in those days, he explained, meant not much more than to read and write one’s name and address - a sufficient tool for rural living, whereas today it involved mobile phones and computers.

Sylvia Schmelkes, chairperson of the 2010 jury, remarked that literacy now included job creation and personal and social transformation. Shi Shuyun, China’s ambassador to UNESCO, said that Chinese villagers are learning to calculate the percentage of carbon emission in their environment. Norbert Nikiama, from Burkina Faso, commented on the high number of applicants (63). Zhou Nanzhao of the International Institute on Rural Education spoke of the urgent need to reach women in rural areas. Abdelwahid Yousif of Sudan said that the Literacy Prizes were both tools for raising public awareness on literacy and a means of internationally sharing good practices.

Mmantsetsa Marope, Director of UNESCO’s Division of Basic Education, said that the Organization was documenting good practices focusing on enabling factors as well as organizing an online forum for experts and practitioners.

The 2010 UNESCO Literacy Prizes will be awarded on 8 September at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.



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