World Literacy Day 2012: Literacy Supports Peace, Development

In India’s Bihar state, officials gave bicycles to girls to help them get to school and stay in school. Enrollment tripled in four years.

September 5, 2012
Nations and organizations worldwide join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) this week in recognition of World Literacy Day.

Worldwide, almost 800 million people can neither read nor understand numbers, and 64 percent of them are women. The links between literacy and individual economic prospects are self-evident, but this year UNESCO points up the connection between literacy and achieving peace.

“Literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict,” according to the UNESCO website.

Abundant data demonstrate how literacy improves lives, prospects and prosperity.

“People who can read enjoy better health, make more money, create safer and more stable democracies, and serve their communities more effectively,” according to a fact sheet compiled by All Children Reading, a coalition effort announced in late 2011 to step up world efforts to increase literacy. “If all students in low-income countries left primary school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, the equivalent of a 12 percent drop in world poverty.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the nonprofit development organization World Vision are partners in the All Children Reading campaign. Its goal is to inspire innovative and cost-effective solutions to overcome the hurdles that undermine literacy growth in developing world countries.

In many places, a lack of resources is the fundamental reason for illiteracy and inadequate educational infrastructure. Parents can’t afford school fees; governments can’t pay teachers; school facilities are lacking or inadequate.

In some cases, cultural and security issues may limit opportunities for education, especially for girls. In some underdeveloped regions, families don’t value the education of female children, or they worry that girls will not reach schools safely.

Those fears are especially keen in countries strained by internal conflict, like Afghanistan. Under Taliban leadership, girls were deliberately kept out of schools, a policy the United States has been working to reverse since 2001.

At a March celebration of education efforts in Afghanistan over the last 10 years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted the progress made in boosting school enrollment for girls.

“Back then, almost no girls went to school. Today, 3 million do. They comprise nearly 40 percent of all primary school enrollments,” Clinton said in a speech to the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. “Nearly 120,000 Afghan girls have graduated from high school, 15,000 are enrolled in universities, and nearly 500 women are on university faculties.”

World Literacy Day is officially set for September 8, but events are being held September 6 and 7 also.

In Washington, All Children Reading will hold an event to unveil innovative literacy proposals that have been submitted in what is being called “a grand challenge for development.” Champions of the literacy movement from all over the world will participate in discussions about the most effective approaches to improving education.

Another U.S. success in this field comes from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which has been working to improve literacy in Morocco. Almost 45 percent of Moroccan adults can’t read, MCC reports, and about 60 percent of all women.

MCC is investing almost $33 million in a program to improve literacy and a vocational education program that helps people achieve Arabic literacy, numbers comprehension, and business and entrepreneurial skills. Since 2009, MCC reports, more than 70,000 people in Morocco have joined the literacy program, 65 percent of whom are women.

The Education for All Blog and All Children Reading offer more information on World Literacy Day 2012.

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