» New UNESCO publication explores five decades of literacy progress
18.04.2017 - Education Sector

New UNESCO publication explores five decades of literacy progress

A student attends the literacy programme ‘Patani Malay-Thai Bi/Multilingual Education Project’ in Thailand, which was awarded the 2016 UNESCO Literacy Prize. ©Mahidol PMT project

UNESCO has recently launched the anniversary publication ‘Reading the past, writing the future: Fifty years of promoting literacy’, which takes stock of literacy progress over the past five decades and looks at how the nature of the challenge has changed.

Based on data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) and information from UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning (UIL), the publication analyses trends and impacts of literacy programmes on 50 countries around the world.

Reading the past, writing the future was also the slogan for last year’s International Literacy Day (ILD), which celebrated the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day on 8 September 2016.

There has been an unprecedented spread of literacy since the first ILD in 1966, but millions still lack access to its benefits.

Voices of learners and the evolving conception of literacy

The publication outlines both the progress and the challenges, tracing the changes in the conception of literacy and how policies and programmes have reflected this development.

Throughout the review, the voices of learners and others engaged in literacy programmes reflect the ways in which acquiring literacy has affected their lives, families and communities.

“Since I have followed the literacy programme, I feel free,” says Louise Cheftaine, a learner from a programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I am involved in trying to resolve problems in my community, and thanks to the collaboration and discussion with local leaders, I have been instrumental in removing the insecurity.”

In Jamaica, Cleopatra Francis was able to having a second chance at learning. “My literacy level was discouragingly low,” she says. “But I had the passion and ambition that I wanted to get some subjects, because I did not want to remain at the level I was at.”

Last year marked the beginning of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to further work on solutions in closing the literacy gap for millions around the world who still lack basic literacy skills.

UNESCO has been at the forefront of global literacy efforts since its foundation in 1946. Visit UNESCO’s literacy website to learn more about projects that promote literacy, and stay up to date with the International Literacy Prizes and International Literacy Day 2017. 

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