A Global Meeting bringing together experts from around the world to discuss Literacy and Sustainable Societies launched UNESCO’s celebrations of International Literacy Day 2015 on 8 September.
At the opening ceremony Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO emphasised that it was a day to: “renew our commitment to literacy as a human right which empowers people and transforms societies.”
The audience heard that despite progress made worldwide since 2000 when the Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted, there are still 757 million adults worldwide who lack basic literacy skills, and that two thirds of them are women (UNESCO Institute for Statistics data).
The theme of this year’s event explores how literacy reinforces the main pillars of sustainable development – economic growth, social development and environmental protection.
Mr Tang said UNESCO remained committed to efforts to create a holistic and sustainable approach to literacy with a focus on girls and women.
He said: “Without literacy, an equitable and sustainable society cannot be realised.”
Taking part in the opening ceremony were H.E. Mr Mohamed Sameh Amr, Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO, H.E. Mr Moheb Mahmoud Kamel al-Rafei, Minister of Education for Egypt, and H.E. Mr Mohammad Sarwar Danish, Second Vice President of Afghanistan.
All three spoke of literacy as a fundamental human right for all and an integral part of building peaceful and sustainable societies.
Giving testimony about the transformative power of literacy was Ms Rasmata Diomande, a former student of a literacy course organised by the City of Paris.
Ms Diomande spoke of arriving in Paris from Burkina Faso without being able to read and write. After struggling for years to establish herself, she discovered the municipal literacy classes and joined. She now has a French diploma and is planning to take IT classes.
“Learning to read changed my life. I can help my children with their homework, I can reply to mail. I am no longer handicapped. I am no longer afraid of picking up a pen,” she said.
Also speaking was Sonia Alvarez, Head Teacher of the Juan Luis Vives School of Valparaiso, Chile which provides education for prison inmates. The school is one of five laureates receiving an award on International Literacy Day as part of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize and the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.
The two-day event includes a prize-giving ceremony and expert meetings on creating a sustainable and literate society.