The United Nations Educational Scientific and cultural organisation, last week celebrated international literacy day aimed at reminding the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. The theme for the 2012 international literacy day celebration is ‘’cultivating peace”.
Over the past few decades significant progress has been recorded especially in regions like Asia and Africa where the literacy challenge has been most daunting. Between 1984 and 1994, adult literacy rates in Asia and Africa were around 70 percent and 52 percent which rose to approximately 82 percent and 63 percent from 2005 to 2009 respectively. However, the literacy challenge remains considerable. Globally, there are still 775 million adults and 122 million youth who are literate according to figures from the UNESCO institute of statistics UIS.
A recent National Literacy Survey 2010 conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics in Nigeria estimates adult literacy rate at 56.9 percent, with huge variations between states, Lagos 88 percent and Yobe only 14 percent, regions,urban 75 percent and rural 48 percent, and sex male 65percent and female 49 percent. More importantly, statistics from the Federal Ministry of Education indicate that only 500,000 of the 40million adult illiterates are enrolled in adult learning classes. There are also 3.5 million nomadic school-aged children with only 450,000 of them accessing any form of schooling. Enrolment of children into schools in some states is as low as 12.0 percent and those states are mainly affected by sectarian violence.
A statement from the director general of UNESCO, Mrs. Irina Bokova, described literacy as a ‘’development accelerator and an essential ingredient in the achievement of peace and sustainable development’’. Maintaining that no country can hope to establish lasting conditions for peace unless it finds ways of building mutual trust among its citizens through inclusive education that promote mutual understanding, respect, tolerance and dialogue.
The director general further added that literacy is not merely the skill to read and write, but a transformational process that empowers individuals, broadens their critical thinking capacities and provides them with the ability to act. She added that literacy is an enabler of democracy and facilitates conflict resolution and peace building, saying that a person without basic literacy skills cannot sufficiently utilise opportunities to effectively engage democratic institutions, make informed choices, exercise civic rights and responsibilities and act for a perceived common good.
It was further announced at the literacy workshop that the Federal Government in recognition of the linkages between literacy and education and individual empowerment and human development, the federal government has set aside N1 billion self-benefitting funds –in-trust domiciled with UNESCO to execute a project to realize adult and youth literacy in Nigeria. The project aims to accelerate national efforts to achieve EFA goals 3 and 4 with emphasis on skills development to empower individual and communities to contribute to the reduction of poverty as envisaged in MDG goals 1 and 3 and accelerate the achievement of the country’s Transformation Agenda and national Vision 20-2020.
UNESCO further announced to its audience that one of the strategic priorities of the project is revitalizing adult and youth literacy at the federal, state and local government levels with the objective of mobilising all actors in government, NGOs, CSOs, the UN systems and other international development partners, is to participate in the provision of quality literacy and non-formal education.
UNESCO is the UN’s specialised agency for education and has been in the forefront of international and national efforts aimed at achieving the EFA goals and targets outlined in the Dakar Framework for Action 2000. UNESCO has accumulated a vast reservoir of expertise in literacy and in working with partners.
Literacy, it has been argued, provides tools for men and women to better understand the world and shape it to meet their aspirations. It is a source of individual dignity and a motor for healthy development of society. International literacy day is an opportunity to celebrate this transformative force and mobilise to make the most of it.
Great strides have been made during the United Nations Literacy Decade that closes this year. Across the world, individuals, communities and countries have reached out to children, youth and adults to enable them to read, write and transform their lives. As a result, some 90 million young men and women and adults have become literate.
The Director General called for a faster reach to the most marginalised and the upholding of basic human rights.
In his speech at the occasion, the UN representative in Nigeria, Mr Dauda Toure, said that a literate world is a more peaceful world, and a more harmonious and healthy world. He further noted that conflict remains one of the major barriers to the attainment of the education for all EFA and millennium Development Goals MDGs. Noting that conflict-affected countries are home to over 40 percent of the world’s out-of-school population of primary school age.
The UN representative further urged the world community not to allow conflict to deprive children and adults of the opportunity of literacy. According to him, ‘’Literacy is a fundamental human right, and the foundation of all education and lifelong learning. Literacy transforms the lives of people, allowing them to make informed choices and empowering individuals to become education balanced. Amidst political upheaval and escalating violence in many parts of the world, literacy must be a priority in the peace-building agenda of all nations’’.
UNESCO estimates that the global adult illiterate population stands at 775million while there are still 122million illiterate youth worldwide. Women and girls make up nearly two thirds of the illiterate adult and youth population. Great potential is being lost.
UNESCO has worked tirelessly to place education and literacy at the top of the global development agenda. The United Nations Secretary-General’s ‘’education first’’ initiative, to be officially launched later this month, shall be a strong platform at the highest level.
The winners of this year’s UNESCO international literacy prizes demonstrate how successful literacy programmes can achieve outstanding results. They are living examples of the central role of literacy in promoting human rights, gender equality, conflict resolution and cultural diversity.