There are reasons enough why literacy should once again be the main feature of this journal. If you access the journal archive via our website www.dvv-international.de you will quickly realise that literacy has been one of the most frequently discussed areas in the field of adult education and development. The website also offers another helpful link, providing easy access to the e-version of the special thematic issue of Convergence relating to the UNESCO International Conferences on Adult Education. This includes the most recent debate on literacy via the ICAE virtual seminar as well as a position paper in preparation for CONFINTEA VI.

We could say that there are more than 770 million reasons for focusing on literacy. This is the official number of non-literate people in the world according to the latest General Monitoring Report on Education for All (GMR) for 2008, which states: “Overall, illiteracy rates are highest in the countries with the greatest poverty. The link between poverty and illiteracy is also observed at household level, with the literacy rates of the poorest households substantially lower than those of the wealthiest.” And there is no gender parity either, as the illiteracy figure for women is considerably higher, 64%.

One of the very interesting articles in this issue comes from Joyce Kebathi in Kenya. She reports on the Kenya National Literacy Survey. This was based on questions posed at household level, and the results reveal that the figure for illiteracy among women is in fact 15% higher than that shown when conventional methods of data gathering are used. On a global scale this could mean that there are an additional 100 million young people and adults who are not able to read and write adequately.

We may face a similar problem when we look at children not going to school. Figures from the same GMR show that there are 96 million children and young people of school-going age who are not actually in school. Here again the figure may be higher if we correlate this issue with figures relating to child labour – which may be the reason for children not attending school, or for their poor performance.

The Abuja Conference on Literacy in 2007 provided a wealth of material – real food for thought. We are happy to reproduce some of this here in a context where so many impending events need quality input: we have the mid-term review of the UN Literacy Decade in 2008, in the same year we have the five regional pre-conferences for CONFINTEA VI, and the global conference itself takes place in Brazil in 2009. Here again, literacy will be a key issue within adult education and lifelong learning. We want to ensure that all prospective participants have a chance to look at where the current debate stands so that they can move forward. As we said, there are reasons enough.

DVV International appreciates very much the willingness of ActionAid to put this volume together, thereby creating the opportunity to share with our readership the process and the outcomes. We should like to thank David Archer and Emma Pearce for the commitment they put into the editorial work.

The discussion on the benchmarks for literacy is a benchmark in itself and has created new opportunities to press for support from national governments and international funders, including the Fast Track Initiative within EFA. It will now be even more difficult to argue that youth and adult literacy should not be supported from these sources as well.

Heribert Hinzen