International Literacy Day 2010 Literacy: An essential foundation for development

International Literacy Day 2010

Literacy: An essential foundation for development

International Literacy Day

8 September

Literacy is a cause for celebration since there are now close to four billion literate people in the world. However, literacy for all – children, youth and adults – is still an unaccomplished goal and an ever moving target. A combination of ambitious goals, insufficient and parallel efforts, inadequate resources and strategies, and continued underestimation of the magnitude and complexity of the task accounts for this unmet goal. Lessons learnt over recent decades show that meeting the goal of universal literacy calls not only for more effective efforts but also for renewed political will and for doing things differently at all levels – locally, nationally and internationally.In its resolution A/RES/56/116, the General Assembly proclaimed the ten year period beginning 1 January 2003 the United Nations Literacy Decade. In resolution A/RES/57/166, the Assembly welcomed the International Plan of Action for the Decade and decided that Unesco should take a coordinating role in activities undertaken at the international level within the framework of the Decade.

Why literacy is important?

Literacy is not just about educating, it is a unique and powerful tool to eradicate poverty and a strong means for social and human progress. The focus of literacy lies in acquiring basic education for all, eradicating poverty, reducing infant mortality, simmering down population growth, reaching gender equality and ensuring constant development, peace and democracy. There are sufficient reasons why literacy is the centre of Education for All (EFA). A good quality basic education equips people with literacy potentials for life and further learning; literate parents are inclined to send their children to school; literate people are prone to access continuing educational opportunities; and educated societies are better geared to keep pace with the pressing development.

Hence literacy is considered as an effective way to enlighten a society and arm it to facing the challenges of life in a stronger and efficient way, raise the level of personal living, create and assist change the society.

UNESCO undertakes capacity-building for sustainable literacy through multidimensional activities. The main areas of capacity-building in the fields of literacy and non-formal education include:

– policy formulation and implementation

– institution building

– planning and management

– curriculum development and materials design

– teaching and learning strategies and methodologies

– training of trainers, as well as facilitators

– developing support structures and mechanisms, as well as learner performance assessment

– monitoring and evaluation

The modalities of capacity development for literacy include training, study visits, peer reviews, South-South and North-South exchanges, networking and partnership-building. Various groups from the governmental and civil society levels are the focus of capacity development, including policy-makers, planners, and programme managers and implementers. The sustainability of any literacy action depends on good capacity, and efforts to improve it must start from an assessment of capacity needs at country level.


A situation analysis, such as that carried out by LIFE countries, is one way of identifying capacity-building needs. Another tool for this purpose is the UNESCO National Education Support Strategy (UNESS).

Related links

NFE-MIS Handbook: Developing a Sub-national Non-formal Education Management Information System

Handbook for Literacy and Non Formal Facilitators in Africa

Manual for Developing Literacy and Adult Education Programmes in Minority Language Communities (UNESCO Bangkok)

Training Guide and Training Techniques (UNESCO Bangkok)

Handbook: Non-formal Adult Education Facilitators (APPEAL, UNESCO Bangkok)

From INEE:

Teacher Guide: Basic Literacy, Numeracy and Themes for Everyday Living, NRC and UNESCO, 2000. Download here.

Effective literacy programmes: Options for policy-makers Oxenham, J. 2008. Paris, UNESCO-IIEP. 140 p. (Fundamentals of Educational Planning, No. 91) Download here.

First language first: community-based literacy programmes for minority language contexts in Asia UNESCO Office Bangkok and Regional Bureau for Education in Asia and the Pacific. 2005. Bangkok, UNESCO Bangkok. Download here.

Literacy for all: making a difference Lind, A. 2008. Paris, UNESCO-IIEP. 147 p. (Fundamentals of Educational Planning, No. 89). Download here.

Mother Tongue-based Literacy Programmes: Case Studies of Good Practice in Asia UNESCO Office Bangkok and Regional Bureau for Education in Asia and the Pacific. 2007. Bangkok, UNESCO Bangkok. Download here.

Literacy, knowledge and development: South-South policy dialogue on quality education for adults and young people Singh, M. and Castro Mussot, L. M. 2007. Hamburg, UIL; Mexico City, INEA. Download here.

Literacy skills for the world of tomorrow: further results from PISA 2000 UNESCO Institute for Statistics, OECD. 2003. Paris, OECD. Download here.

Handbook for literacy and non-formal education facilitators in Africa, 2006. Paris, UNESCO.Download here.

From Closed Books to Open Doors: West Africa’s Literacy Challenge co-authored in 2009 by the African Network Campaign for Education For All (ANCEFA), Pamoja West Africa,, The African Platform for Adult Education,, Oxfam International and ActionAid
Download here.

Early Grade Reading Assessment Toolkit prepared by RTI International for the World Bank Office of Human Development in 2009. Download here.

Update on the Early Grade Reading Assessment Toolkit including use of it/ plans for capacity building and institutionalisation, which is being used in several crisis and post-crisis contexts

Video and power point lecture from Prof: Andreas Schleicher, Head of the Indicators and Analysis division in the OECD Directorate for Education, speaking on Benchmarking International Best Practices, in Washington on July 10, 2009. Download here.

and more related websites:

UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) provides news, research and information on literacy.

International Reading Association’s website offers a number of excellent resources and tools on literacy:

Teachers Talking About Learning offers a collection of articles, briefings and overviews on the Rights of Children; teaching strategies aligned with a Child-Friendly approach; and overviews on related learning theories.

Proliteracy offers adult literacy programmes in over 50 developing countries. Their website has a number of tools along with an International Literacy blog:

Asia Pacific Literacy Database provides regional, national and subnational literacy and education statistics and policies as well as assessment reports and sample curricula.

The Basic Education Commission raises public and private support for quality basic education as a key element in economic development and human well-being.


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