Tags: un | literacy | illiterate

Literacy Chasm Remains at Midpoint of U.N. Effort

Tuesday, 07 Oct 2008 11:01 AM

By Stewart Stogel

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Although a worldwide campaign to reduce illiteracy has made progress, some regions trail sharply, according to a report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The report, released Monday to assess the progress of the U.N. Literacy Decade effort at its halfway point, noted that some regions, particularly south and west Asia, along with sub-Saharan Africa, continue to struggle to keep up with more developed regions. Laura Bush was to comment on the report during a luncheon Tuesday in what was expected to be her final address at the U.N. as first lady.

Adult literacy climbed from 76 percent to 83.6 percent between 2000 and 2006, but the UNESCO report noted that such figures mask considerable regional disparities.

"As we begin the second half of the United Nations Literacy Decade, the international community must seek new ways to work with marginalized populations for whom traditional approaches have proved ineffective," said UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.

Three-fourths of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults live in only 15 countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, and Nigeria, according to the report. In some sub-Saharan nations, the number of illiterate adults has increased by almost 30 million.

The literacy gap between genders remains essentially frozen. In 1994, 63 percent of illiterate adults were women. In 2006, the gap nudged up to 64 percent.

Under such circumstances, 75 percent of the 127 nations for which UNESCO calculates projections will miss the Millennium Development Goal of cutting adult illiteracy in half by 2015.

The U.N. agency has undertaken several initiatives to boost literacy, including three plans to improve the management and adaptability of literacy programs and the need to boost national government and donor organization funding.

Laura Bush, an honorary ambassador for UNESCO, was scheduled to talk about the literacy project during a high-powered luncheon.

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