Literacy and skills development in focus at UNESCO International Literacy Day conference in Paris


The UNESCO International Literacy Day conference took place on 7 September 2018 at Paris Headquarters and explored the theme of integrated approaches to literacy and skills development.

Held a day ahead of the actual International Literacy Day, the gathering brought together stakeholders and decision-makers from all over the world to examine how integrated approaches to literacy and skills development can help close the literacy gap and improve learners’ ability to meet the needs of increasingly globalized and digitized labour markets.

“Literacy is more crucial than ever to meet the demands of increasingly globalized societies and changing labour markets,” said UNESCO Director-General Ms Audrey Azoulay in her speech.

To the approximately 200 participants from all over the world, including the five 2018 UNESCO International Literacy Prizes winners, Ms Azoulay recalled the purpose of the conference and its importance for the international community.

“We have gathered today, to highlight outstanding examples of initiatives bridging gaps and changing the world. To fill the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind.”

Millions of children, youth and adults are still illiterate  

Today, at least 750 million young people and adults still lack basic literacy skills. Two-thirds of them are women and 102 million of them are youth aged 15 to 24 (UIS, 2017). At the same time, many of the 192 million unemployed young people and adults worldwide are unable to achieve decent livelihoods due to, among others, the lack of foundational skills, including literacy, and failing to meet the skill demands of the rapidly changing labour market.

UNESCO Deputy Director-General, Mr Xing Qu, opened the conference and said:

“In many national contexts, jobs are being eliminated as fast as they are being created, and unemployment and under-employment, particularly among youth, is an urgent global concern.

Unemployment is especially acute in communities with low- skilled and low- literate youth and adults who are not well prepared for jobs in the expanding knowledge economy.

That is why this year’s International Literacy Day focuses on literacy and skills development, to examine linkages between literacy learning, skills development and the world of work.”

The Secretary of State for Preschool and General Education of the Republic of Angola, Mr Joaquin Felizardo Alfredo Cabral, focused his opening speech on the situation in Africa, and underlined that the strife and difficult economic conditions should not limit the efforts towards investing in literacy and skills development throughout life.

“Our African continent is living a complicated situation today. They are intertwined in different ways, internal conflicts of financial economic crisis, violent social clashes and even some manifestations of terrorism. All of the above generates insecurity and provokes territorial mobility of countless families, who instead of dealing with the development of competencies for a better life, migrate to survive, permanently seeking security conditions,” he said.

“Our plan includes a strategy based on an approach that combines literacy and the development of skills that allow people to improve their lives and their means of survival.”

Combined approach to literacy and skills development

Possibilities and best practices in improving outcomes of integrated approaches to literacy and skills development in a lifelong learning perspective were discussed, identified and explored by specialists from international organizations, governments, NGO’s, the private sector and academia through various panel sessions.

The programme presented new trends and issues within integrated approaches to literacy and skills development; evidence of outcomes from the field; effective governance and partnerships to make these approaches successful, and implications of digital technology for advancing a set of skills required for the world of work.

This year’s UNESCO Literacy Prizes winners from Afghanistan, Nigeria, Spain, Islamic Republic of Iran and Uruguay presented their inspiring projects that are helping advance literacy and skills development.

Ms Azoulay presented the prestigious UNESCO Literacy Prizes to the five laureates. She emphasized on UNESCO’s commitment to support Member States in promoting literacy and advancing the global dialogue, and urging for action to include the most vulnerable youth and adults in society by expanding lifelong learning opportunities.

“A source of this serious employment problem, which tend to affect disproportionately marginalized youth and adults, is the lack of an appropriate set of skills required for decent work,” she said. “The concern is especially acute in communities with low skilled and low literate youth and adults who are not well prepared for jobs and new skills requirements in the expanding knowledge economy. These challenges call for expanding lifelong learning opportunities particularly for disadvantaged groups and marginalised populations.”