This session was organised on behalf of the EFA Forum by the UNESCO Institute for Education (UIE), the International Literacy Institute (ILI), ISESCO, Action Aid and SIDA. It emerged as a result of a Resolution moved by a number of Member States,1 and adopted by the General Assembly in its fifty-fourth session, to consider the declaration of a United Nations Literacy Decade. The Resolution requested that the Secretary General, in co-operation with the Director General of UNESCO, submit a proposal and a plan of action for this decade to the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly.
The discussion at the session was based on a preliminary draft (“Literacy Decade Framework and Elements for a Plan of Action”, 15 pages) prepared by a group of specialists convened by UNESCO’s Basic Education Division in Sèvres, France, on 27–29 March 2000.2 The Literacy for All framework adopted in the document proposed:
This session at the World Education Forum was seen as a key opportunity for a first round of feedback on the document and consultation on the conditions for launching a major world-wide initiative that focuses on universal literacy as an integral component of basic education and is framed within the Education for All movement and goals.
The session attracted about 100 people from all regions and from very diverse sectors and institutions: government, NGOs, academic and research institutions, religious, ethnic and grassroot organizations, and international co-operation agencies. There was high representation from developing countries, both among the presenters and the session participants, including some of the countries that promoted the Resolution.
There was a strong consensus around the fact that youth and adult education, and adult literacy in particular, were neglected in the 1990s. Education for All meant in practice primary education for children. The specific EFA goal referring to adult literacy – reducing the adult illiteracy rate to half the rate in 1990 – was not met. Except for a few countries that did make special efforts in this field, there was little progress in reducing the nearly one billion young and adult illiterates worldwide.
Child and adult education were viewed as options rather than as complementary and mutually reinforcing. The child was viewed in isolation, in the frame of the school rather than in the frame of the family and the home. Education for all was understood as education for children. Jomtien’s “expanded vision” of basic education was reduced to formal schooling and, more specifically, to primary education.
Various participants provided examples and related all this to their own countries, thus confirming what had been officially acknowledged by the global EFA 2000 Assessment, regional and most national EFA reports, and the E9 EFA report.
Participants supported the idea of a UN Literacy Decade. Reasons given included:
Some specific proposals regarding the UN Literacy Decade were as follows:
While acknowledging the importance of a holistic, life-long, and life-wide approach to literacy – children and adults, in and out of school – several participants warned against the tendency to marginalize youth/adult literacy under the rhetoric of comprehensive policies and strategies. The long-acknowledged need for a two-pronged approach to literacy requires breaking with traditional mindsets and inertias, enhancing systemic awareness of education and educational change, and building a culture of co-operative thinking and doing at all levels and in relation to all actors involved.
Literacy for All: The Need for a Renewed Vision
|Old Vision||Renewed Vision|
|Illiteracy as a social pathology and an individual responsibility.||Illiteracy as a structural phenomenon and a social responsibility.|
|“Eradicate illiteracy” as the goal.||Create literate environments and literate societies as a goal.|
|Literacy education associated only with youth and adults.||Literacy education associated with children, youth and adults.|
|Literacy education associated with out-of-school groups and non-formal programmes.||Literacy education takes place both in and out of the school system.|
|Child literacy and adult literacy viewed and developed separately.||Child and adult literacy linked within a holistic policy framework and strategy.|
|Literacy understood as initial, basic education (an elementary level).||Literacy as functional literacy (literacy, to be such, must be functional and sustainable).|
|Literacy viewed separately from basic education (literacy and basic education).||Literacy viewed as an integral part of basic education.|
|Literacy acquisition and development associated with a particular period in the life of a person.||Literacy understood as a lifelong learning process.|
|Literacy acquisition in school as a goal of the first or the first two grades.||Literacy acquisition in school as a goal for the whole primary education cycle.|
|Literacy as a specific area in the school curriculum (Language).||Literacy across the school curriculum.|
|Literacy associated only with conventional tools (i.e. pencil and paper).||Literacy related to both conventional and modern tools (pencil and paper but also keyboard and digitaltechnologies).|
|Literacy centred around literacy provision (teaching).||Literacy centred around literacy learning.|
|Literacy goals centred around literacy acquisition.||Literacy goals include literacy acquisition, development and effective use.|
|Literacy as a responsibility of the State only.||Literacy as a responsibility of both the State and civil society|
Organiser: Adama Ouana – UIE, Hamburg
Moderator: Linda King – UIE, Hamburg
Presenters: Rosa Maria Torres – Ecuador/Argentina, Daniel Wagner – ILI, USA, David Archer – Action Aid, UK, Maria Kere – Save the Children, USA, Burkina Faso, Mamadou Lamarana Bah, ISESCO, Rabat, Peter Krug, Ministry of Education, Germany
Final remarks: Michael Omolewa, Delegate to UNESCO, Nigeria, Chander J. Daswani, Consultant, UNESCO, India
Rapporteur: Rosa Maria Torres
Secretary: Jorge Sequeira, UNESCO
2 The group compromised: C.J. Daswani (India), A. Lind (Sweden), M. Omolewa (Nigeria), A. Ouane (Mali), and R.M. Torres (Ecuador). The following UNESCO staff also attended the meeting: A. Bah-Diallo (Director, Basic Education), S.K. Chu (UNESCO Institute for Statistics), S. Schnuttgen (Collective Consultation of NGOs) and U. Miura (Literacy Section)
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