Illiteracy: a real challenge for peace in Iraq
On the occasion of International Literacy Day 2011, celebrated on 8 September, UNESCO highlights the importance of literacy as indispensable tool for effective social and economic participation, contributing to peace, human development and poverty reduction.
Despite considerable efforts in recent years, Iraq is still striving to ensure the right to education for all Iraqi citizens. National illiteracy rates are estimated at 20% in Iraq. Women are particularly affected by illiteracy, especially in rural areas, where close to 50% of women aged between 15 and 24 are illiterate, compared to 28%-20% of women living in urban and metropolitan areas.
“Literacy for Peace” is the theme for the celebrations this year. “Today I urge governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector to make literacy a policy priority, so that every individual can develop their potential, and actively participate in shaping more sustainable, just and peaceful societies”, said Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO.
To mark the Day, the UNESCO Iraq Office will launch the “Reading for Peace” national campaign, which will promote access to education and provide literacy centers with specialized publications on peace and human rights.
“Illiteracy is one of main challenges that the Government of Iraq and its counterparts are facing to ensure the reform process at all levels of education” said Mohamed Djelid, Director of the UNESCO Iraq Office, adding that “the Government of Iraq with the support of UNESCO has developed a national vision and detailed policy responding to the critical and immediate needs of Iraqi illiterates with emphasis on the rights of vulnerable and currently excluded population groups.”
UNESCO Iraq, together with the Ministry of Education and national NGOs, has organized a number of events throughout Iraq to raise awareness on the importance of literacy for the building of a culture of peace and ensuring inclusive development in Iraq. Activities include: Awarding of best literacy students in cooperation with Iraqi Ministry of Education; organisation of community based events throughout Iraq in partnership with local NGOs with emphasis on vulnerable groups and learners with special needs; dissemination of awareness raising material including posters and T-shirts; launching of the “Power of Literacy” booklet with a collection of successful literacy stories; and screening of TV spots in the UNESCO supported Educational TV among others. Activities will take place during the second week of September due to the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.
These activities complement work already begun by UNESCO to improve literacy rates in Iraq, such as the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) for Iraq with funding from the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, First Lady of Qatar and UNESCO’s Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, in 2010. LIFE is contributing to strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi Government and Civil Society to deliver sustainable and empowering literacy for all. Achievements so far include: capacity building towards the development of a National Literacy Strategy 2010-2015; development of new literacy materials and curricula; establishment of the National Literacy Network for Iraq with 260 national NGOs in partnership with the Iraqi Ministry of Education; launching of the NGO Grant Literacy and Life Skills Program for the establishment of pilot community learning centers in vulnerable areas; and launching of advocacy campaigns at community level targeting vulnerable women and youth.