Annan calls for all-out effort to achieve literacy as gateway to millennium goals

8 September 2003 – Marking the first Literacy Day of the United Nations Literacy Decade, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called for an all-out effort from all levels of society to eliminate illiteracy as a main obstacle to development in a world where 860 million adults, two-thirds of them women, can at present neither read nor write.

“On this day, let us vow to work together to ensure that illiteracy has no place in the twenty-first century,” Mr. Annan said in a message that noted that one of the goals set by the 2000 UN Millennium Summit was raising literacy levels by 50 per cent by 2015.

Stressing that literacy was a prerequisite for reaching the other goals of the Millennium Summit, such as halving poverty by 2015, he declared: “Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.”

He noted that while the challenge was greatest in developing countries, many developed countries were experiencing modest but worrying levels of illiteracy, which was connected to patterns of poverty, social exclusion and inequalities.

“It requires an integrated approach that places literacy in context and draws on contributions from all actors – government at every level, civil society, the private sector, community groups, professional educators and, last but not least, family, friends and colleagues of those seeking to develop their literacy skills,” Mr. Annan said.

Noting that literacy was essential for the empowerment of women, he said it was “the most effective tools we know for development across all society. That is why the first two years of the Literacy Decade will give special emphasis to women’s literacy, as a stepping stone to our ultimate goal of literacy for all.”

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, stressed that unless literacy efforts are greatly accelerated to keep up with population growth, there will still be some 800 million illiterate adults in the world by the 2015 deadline.

“The continuing high numbers … alert us that improved rates of literacy progress need to outpace population growth and make inroads into those parts of society where illiteracy is most deeply embedded,” Mr. Matsuura said in a message. “The latter tend to be groups that are harder to reach: women, particularly among minority groups and in rural areas; linguistic and cultural minorities; the very poor of urban and rural areas; and street children and adolescents who dropped out of schools. To effectively address the literacy needs of such groups, not only innovative strategies but also proportionately more resources are required.”