International Conference of the Alliance for Literacy, Peace, and Development in South Asia
The International Conference of the Alliance for Literacy, Peace, & Development in South Asia held in New Delhi, India on 7th September, the eve of International Literacy Day 2013. The meeting, which was organized by the Government of India, the Sakshar Bharat programme, and UNESCO, was a dialogue of Ministers of Education, Members of Parliament, diplomats, delegations, and representatives from countries of the South Asia region, as well as states within India. It is the UNESCO’s objective and mandate to promote literacy and education as the enablers of peace and sustainable development around the world, and this dialogue was a crucially relevant interjection in South Asia’s path towards 2015 and beyond.
Significant advances are being made in furthering the cause of literate societies in all South Asian countries, and the literacy rate for the region has risen 26% for women, and 17% for men between 1990 and 2011. However, a gender gap persists in many countries, nearly half of the world’s total illiterate population lives in South Asia, and much more needs to be done for the attainment of the targets set by the Education for All goals. With the post 2015 development agenda on the horizon, the conference came at an important time for the South Asian region, and brought together Ministers, government representatives and delegates to discuss their experiences and challenges, and their hopes of sustained cooperation in the area.
The conference was inaugurated by the Vice President of India, His Excellency, Mr. Hamid Ansari, who in his address to the audience, drew the attention of South Asian countries to the ‘untapped potential and immense possibilities for building modern and prosperous societies in our respective countries’, pointing out that, ‘Literacy, peace and development are inextricably interlinked. In the absence of literacy, people get excluded from the benefits of development...More importantly, illiteracy undermines democratic processes, promotes intolerance, sectarianism and discrimination.’ He called for greater cooperation between the countries of South Asia on literacy and education for the mutual exchange of best practices, experiences, and ideas to jointly fight the scourge of illiteracy.
The inauguration of the conference was also an occasion to announce and recognize that India’s Sakshar Bharat programme has been awarded UNESCO’s King Sejong Literacy Prize for 2013. The Vice President congratulated the programme and all its stakeholders. Literacy certificates were presented during the ceremony to 2,00,00,000th + 2 certified learners who have completed their literacy training under the programme.
In the conference deliberations, chaired by the Minister of Human Resource Development, Dr. Pallam Raju, the gathering heard on literacy challenges and national experiences from representatives of Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, as well Mr. Shigeru Aoyagi, Director of UNESCO New Delhi Office, and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, and Ministers of Education and Zila Panchayat representatives from different states of India.
Mr. Aoyagi spoke of the urgent need to address the question of both overall literacy and gender gap in the South Asia region, emphasizing that the issue was global, regional, and national in dimension and solutions must therefore come from cooperation, engagement and sense of global ownership, of the EFA goals, and the MDGs.
The UNESCO Representative expressed the view of many participants that today is a time to create a Road Map for Regional Cooperation for establishing literate societies in South Asia. It can call for a set of enabling actions, such as cooperation mechanisms, capacity building programmes, and monitoring literacy data and indicators. It will draw upon a cognizance that the South Asian region is profoundly diverse but also contains within itself vast potential.
Dr. Pallam Raju spoke of the achievements of Sakshar Bharat, the world’s largest literacy programme, and invoked the implications of literate countries for peace and development for continued efforts.
The Minister of Education for Afghanistan, Mr.Ghulam Farooq Wardak, expressed his appreciation for the cooperation and assistance South Asian countries India and Pakistan had extended towards the work on literacy and education in the country. The importance of regional cooperation in creating a literate, more developed, and peaceful South Asia, was emphasized by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, who invited the countries of the region to consider the possibility of doing more to share experiences and best practices on a regular basis. High Commissioner of Pakistan to India, Mr. Salman Bashir also highlighted the importance of sustained cooperation among countries in the region. Member of Parliament from Sri Lanka, Mr. Mohan Lal Grero also spoke of further bolstering the sharing the best practices within South Asia.
Countries of the region, it was encouraging to note, have made progress in diminishing the gender gap in literacy. Bhutan reported greater enrolment rates for girls than boys, and India has enhanced both overall and female literacy. The challenge in Afghanistan was further complicated by conflict, but the Minister of Education, Mr. Wardak stated that they hoped to elevate female literacy to 50% by 2020.
The Conference was connected to the Sakshar Bharat programme in different parts of India through video conferencing, and the panellists interacted directly with the Volunteer Teachers and learners from the field, commending their achievement and becoming familiar with their experiences. They reached out about 10,000 members of the programme from villages from across the length and breadth of the country and discuss with them on face-to-face on-line conversation. Those who had become literate through Sakhshar Bharat were able to use this opportunity to address the international conference online and talk about the impact literacy has had on their lives.
It is the UNESCO’s mandate, as lead agency on Education for All, to promote literacy for peace and sustainable development. The link between literacy and the questions of development and peace, is both thorough and undeniable. This makes the content of literacies and education important to any discussion on literacy as a means to peaceful and prosperous nations. Many national and state representatives highlighted the need for learning to enhance not only developmental indices, but also create better citizens.
During the conference, more than 1,000 participants came together in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan, including Hon’ble Ministers of Education of Indian states, members of district government, the academia, and civil society, who participated in dialogue with the delegations.
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