8 September, International Literacy Day: 793 million adults can neither read nor write
This year’s International Literacy Day, celebrated world-wide on 8 September, will focus on the link between literacy and peace. During a ceremony in New Delhi, India, UNESCO will award the international Confucius and King Sejong literacy prizes to projects in Burundi, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the United States of America.
Also in New Delhi, an international conference on Women’s Literacy for Inclusive and Sustainable Development is being organized by UNESCO’s E9 initiative,* from 8 to 10 September.
According to data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, 793 million adults – most of them girls and women - are illiterate. A further 67 million children of primary school age are not in primary school and 72 million adolescents of lower secondary school age are also missing out their right to an education.
More than half the adult population of the following 11 countries are illiterate: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Haiti, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. South and West Asia account for more than half (51,8%) the world’s adult illiterate population, ahead of sub-Saharan Africa (21,4%), East Asia and the Pacific (12,8%), the Arab States (7,6%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4,6%), North America, Europe and Central Asia (2%).
“The world urgently needs increased political commitment to literacy backed by adequate resources to scale up effective programmes. Today I urge governments, international organizations, 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,” declared UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
Scheduled participants at the New Delhi conference include the President of India, Pratibha Devi Singh Patil; the ministers of education of Nigeria, Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufaí (the current E-9 President); Pakistan, Pir mazhar-ul-Aq; Nepal, Gangalal Tuladhar; Egypt, Ahmed Gamal El-Din Moussa; Sri Lanka, Bandula Gunawardhana; Bangladesh, Nurul Islam Nahid; and Bhutan, Thakur Singh Powdyel.
Representatives of international organizations, members of civil society and of the private sector, as well as experts in adult education will present successful literacy projects and share their experience.
The award ceremony of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prizes and of the UNESCO Confucius Prizes for Literacy, financed respectively by the governments of the Republic of Korea and China, will be held ahead of the conference, on 8 September.
The National Literacy Service of Burundi is the laureate of one of the two awards of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its innovative approach to linking functional literacy to daily life issues and to topics related to peace and tolerance, as well as for its overall impact. From 2010 to 2011 alone, the Service presented more than 50,000 certificates to new readers.
The other UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize goes to the National Institute for the Education of Adults of Mexico, for its bilingual literacy programme. The programme is recognized for its impact in reducing the rate of illiteracy among indigenous populations, especially women, and for improving indigenous people’s ability to exercise their rights.
One of two awards of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy goes to the U.S.-based Room to Read for its effective programme, Promoting Gender Equality and Literacy through Local Language Publishing. Operating in nine countries — Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Zambia — the programme has assisted communities in the development of culturally relevant reading materials in local and minority languages.
The other award of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy goes to Collectif Alpha Ujuvi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for its programme, Peaceful Coexistence of Communities and Good Governance in North Kivu. The programme uses an innovative model for preventing and resolving tensions and conflicts among individuals and communities.
Each of the four laureates will receive US$20,000 during the ceremony, which will be webcast.
The E-9 brings together nine high population countries that are home to over two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterates and more than half the planet’s out-of-school children: Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan.
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