Literacy 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 the healthy development of society. International Literacy Day is an opportunity to celebrate this transformative force and mobilize 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.
We must now go much further. An estimated 775 million young people and adults around the world still cannot read or write; 122 million children of primary and lower secondary school age remain out of school; and millions still graduate with inadequate literacy skills. Women account for two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population. The persistence of such numbers hobbles our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to build the inclusive knowledge societies we need for the 21st century.
We must move faster to reach the most marginalized and uphold this basic human right. The global movement for education needs a big push. That is why, later this month, I will be launching a new Education First initiative.
The initiative focuses on three priorities: putting every child in school; improving the quality of learning; .and fostering global citizenship. I call on world leaders and all involved with education to join this initiative. The cost of leaving millions of children and young people on the margins of society is far greater than the funds required to reach the international goals for education.
Ask any parent what they want for their children, even in war zones and disaster areas where food, medicine and shelter might be considered the highest priorities, and the answer is the same: education for children. Ask any child what he or she wishes to be when they grow up, and the answer is rooted in education. Education is the gateway to fulfilling those aspirations.
A literate world is a more peaceful world, and a more harmonious and healthy world. On this observance of International Literacy Day, let us pledge to join together to move the literacy agenda forward.