17.12.2010 - UNESCO Office in Kathmandu

Literacy in Nepal: interview with Axel Plathe, UNESCO Kathmandu Office

©UNESCO/Krishna MallaA woman in the literacy class for adult women in community learning centre

UNESCO Kathmandu Office joins in observing this year’s International Literacy Day in Nepal through the support of various activities. On this occasion, “Aajako shiksha”, a weekly newspaper, interviewed Axel Plathe from the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu.

Here is the interview, an English translation that was originally published in Nepali. 

1. In Nepalese context what is literacy? 
Literacy in the context of Nepal is not very much different from literacy in the global context; being literate means that someone is able to read and write daily life related short and simple sentences and to do simple calculations. 

2. What are the hindrances of Literacy in Nepal, and what should we do to accelerate Literacy programmes? 
To be illiterate in Nepal has many reasons: it depends whether you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman; it is linked to your income, the caste or ethnicity, to which you belong, the mother language that you speak, the region where you live, or the fact whether you have a disability or not. But there are also reasons that are linked to the lack of adequate resources, interventions that are not sufficiently targeted or the lack of proper monitoring mechanism of literacy programmes. 

3. What are the major approaches to accelerate literacy programmes? 
I believe that allocating more resources to literacy programmes is certainly one of the most efficient approaches. But money is not all; we need to convince the people in the communities that being literate can really uplift them from poverty and create a better life, we need good literacy facilitators in the communities, who can adapt their programmes to the very varied social and cultural contexts, and we need policy makers, managers and planners, who have the capacity to deal with illiteracy at a large scale. 

4. What kind of programmes does UNESCO have to support Nepal in the literacy and education sector? 
UNESCO undertakes a great variety of actions supporting literacy in the country ranging for advocacy work on the political level to very concrete assistance at the community level. For example, we are supporting the Non-formal Education Centre in promoting literacy through mother tongue and we help government to collect and analyze data on both illiteracy and literacy programmes. But we also provide capacity building programmes for government officials. And we assist the actors on the ground, in the Community Learning Centres that we are supporting since 15 years, for example by providing literacy material in mother tongues for girls and women.

5. How effective is the ongoing National Literacy Campaign? 
It is a high political commitment that came at the right time but has many challenges. So far, implementation of the programme is a concern and it certainly requires better concerted efforts to ensure that the various actors work efficiently together. 

6. What kind of strategies should we follow for qualitative literacy? 
Making people literate looks like an easy task, but in reality it is a very complex mission. Literacy strategies should never stand alone; they must all be aligned to poverty reduction strategies. Another strategic element is a comprehensive policy on investment in literacy based on reliable data. Also important are the monitoring of the qualification and remuneration of facilitators and of the quality of materials. The strategies also need to address functional and need based literacy. And they must see literacy as part of continuing education. But probably the most important strategic element is to make sure that literacy programmes are adapted to the need to the people in the community and are taking their realities into account. 

7. What are the future programmes for education of the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu especially? 
We will focus our activities on strengthening Education for All (EFA) in the country, for example by monitoring through the non-formal education and management information system (NFE-MIS), capacity development in all aspects and all levels of education especially related to EFA goals, providing a platform for discussions on education and federalism relating to various themes, such curriculum, governance of education, financing of education, open and distance learning, free and compulsory education, student pathways under federal system of government, etc. 

We will also continue our support to literacy through mother tongue, policy advice to the use of ICT in education, inclusive education and gender, preventive education to fight HIV and AIDs, education for sustainable development and addressing disaster risk reduction and management in the education sector.

8. Do you have further things to say? 
Reaching the disadvantaged and marginalized is a priority for UNESCO. But there is no single formula for overcoming marginalization in education. However, progress is possible by adopting good policies that address the main causes of illiteracy such as social inequality, gender disparities, ethnic, linguistic and geographic disadvantages . And in concluding, let me point out the most important challenge: More than 4.5 million women in Nepal still cannot read and write, keeping many of them marginalized and poor. This is intolerable situation and we must work together to overcome this situation. Because when women and men are literate, it is all society that gains.


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