The world has become a more literate place with rates going up from 56 per cent in 1956 to 85 per cent in 2015 but there still exist 758 million adults who cannot read or write a simple sentence and 250 million children of school-going age who are not acquiring basic literacy and foundational skills.
The Global Alliance for Literacy within the Framework of Lifelong Learning (GAL), launched by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova as part of International Literacy Day, September 8, was born from deep concern expressed at the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 at the fact that the world’s literacy agenda remained unfinished.
At UNESCO’s General Conference in 2013 a resolution was adopted to “…put in place a multi-stakeholder partnership for literacy that would ensure long-term global literacy efforts.”
The result, GAL, aims to harness the potential of technology to increase access to quality literacy learning and stimulate and promote collaborative programmes which connect literacy with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The initiative coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) in Hamburg, comprises UN, government and private sector representatives, regional organizations, donors, national and international non-governmental organizations and experts.
Progress is good, but not good enough
Chief Programme Coordinator at UIL, Mr Subbarao Ilapavuluri said: “Worldwide many countries have taken a number of initiatives catalyzed by UNESCO. This is good but not good enough if we want to create an inclusive world where no one is left behind. It is not good enough if we want each individual to fully participate in today’s societies.
“What is needed is a common sense of purpose, a shared commitment to make a difference to the lives of people through literacy and other skills needed to function as active citizens. We need to connect all the stakeholders. National governments will lead the process and UNESCO will facilitate and support the efforts. No single entity can achieve results.”
He said GAL hoped to stimulate innovative literacy programmes and make literacy learning more relevant and useful to learners of all ager groups as well as helping countries make demonstrable progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and especially Target 4.6 of SDG 4 for education which related to literacy of youth and adults.
“Currently 91 per cent of young people in the age group of 15-24 years are literate. By 2030, the aim is to ensure all youth in this age group are functionally literate and most of the adults are also able to at least read and write,” he said.
He said GAL would mobilize investment and promote initiatives with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies.
“ICTs mean anyone can learn anytime. One of the main problems however is that there are not enough learning materials available. We can, for example, further develop apps in local languages and use open online courses for distance learning. These should address different learning needs more effectively in an engaging manner. Technology can be a useful ally to make this happen” he said.
He said many digital learning programmes already existed for young children but a similar effort was needed to use technology to serve youth and adults within a lifelong approach.
The alliance will be facilitated and advised by a core group led by UNESCO and consisting of representatives of Member States, intergovernmental and donor organizations, civil society and private-sector representatives, and experts.