07.09.2011 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

8 September, International Literacy Day: 176 million illiterate adults in sub-Saharan Africa

© UNESCOPoster for International Literacy Day 2011

UNESCO is joining hands with the governments of Senegal, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau to celebrate this year’s International Literacy Day on 8 September. The day will focus on the link between literacy and peace.

Activities in the three countries include roundtables, press conferences, exhibitions and are mobilizing a broad range of stakeholders, from ministers, researchers and educators to adult learners.

Worldwide 793 million adults cannot read and write. Sub-Saharan Africa is home for 176 million illiterate adults.

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.

Continuous progress

The good news is that progress in literacy is being made every day. Adult literacy rate increased by about 8 percentage points globally over the past 20 years – an increase of 6% for men and 10% for women.

“In today’s knowledge driven societies, lack of literacy is more than ever synonymous with exclusion and marginalization,” underlines UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova, in her message for the International Literacy Day.

“Literacy is a prerequisite for peace because it carries multiple benefits, cutting across the human, cultural, social, political and economic spheres,” she says.

Reward to African literacy projects UNESCO will award the international Confucius and King Sejong literacy prizes to ground-breaking programs in four countries.

The projects show the central role of literacy in promoting human rights, gender equality, conflict resolution and cultural diversity.

Two of the projects are in Africa:

  • The National Literacy Service of Burundi is awarded 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 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy is awarded to the Collectif ALPHA UJUVI in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for its programme "Literacy for the peaceful coexistence of communities and good governance" . The programme uses an innovative model for using literacy to prevent and resolve tensions and conflicts among individuals and communities in the North Kivu region, thereby contributing to social cohesion and improved governance mechanisms.

The two other prize-winning projects are from Mexico and the United States. Each of the four laureates will receive US$20,000.

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