SIL International Media Release

The Power of Literacy—International Literacy Day 2009

(September 2009) SIL representatives joined the observance in Paris of the annual UN-declared International Literacy Day on 8 September. One of the day's events was a ceremony to award the 2009 UNESCO Literacy Prizes to four innovative literacy projects in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, India and the Philippines, with Honorable Mention to a program in Bhutan. There was also a presentation by Mrs. Laura Bush, in her role as UNESCO Honorary Ambassador for the UN Literacy Decade.

Representing SIL at the Paris event was Barbara Trudell, SIL's Director of Academic Affairs in Africa, who stated:

"International Literacy Day is an important annual reminder that the ability to read and write, which so many of us take for granted, is not shared by millions of people, most of whom live in the two-thirds world. The celebration of this day also allows us to highlight the broad range of social, economic, political, educational and personal advantages which literacy can help to bring about in the lives of people around the world."

This year's theme—The Power of Literacy—underscores the significant impact of literacy in accord with the theme for the 2009–2010 biennium of the United Nations Literacy Decade, Literacy and Empowerment. UNESCO states that one in five adults is not literate, which amounts to 776 million adults without adequate literacy skills. In addition, 75 million school-age children are not attending school, and many more attend irregularly but eventually drop out.

On the occasion of International Literacy Day 2009, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura’s message spotlighted the empowering role of literacy and its importance for equitable participation in society:

"Who are the 776 million illiterate adults? In most countries, these are the most disadvantaged and marginalized populations, with a high percentage of women and girls, indigenous people, linguistic and cultural minorities, nomads, rural dwellers and the disabled. There is a high correlation between poverty and illiteracy. In this perspective, empowerment is the key.…
"Fortunately, there are many governments, civil society organizations, enterprises, community groups and individuals who understand the benefits of literacy and are conscientious in their support of literacy programmes.... International Literacy Day is an occasion to salute and applaud their efforts and to encourage them to sustain their commitment. By tutoring and mentoring others, literacy workers—whether professional or voluntary—are important catalysts of change who are making a real difference to the lives of others."

SIL and literacy

In recognition of International Literacy Day, Fredrick Boswell, SIL Executive Director, said:

"SIL International enthusiastically supports the UN focus on the global necessity of literacy, as highlighted by its proclamation and celebration of International Literacy Day. SIL remains dedicated and committed to seeing language groups empowered in their quests to build capacity for literacy within their respective communities."

Pat Kelley, International Literacy and Education Coordinator for SIL, points out that:

"International Literacy Day provides an occasion to celebrate the global swell of interest and achievements in multilingual education, Education for All and educational Millennium Development Goals. For the sake of local language speakers around the world who hope to ride that wave and receive an equitable education, this is a day to recognize that we must maintain the momentum."

Kelley highlighted SIL's commitment to local training in her reference to involvement in the recent advanced literacy course in Burkina Faso—three month-long sessions spread over three years—that graduated 23 experienced mother-tongue literacy workers from nine francophone African countries. She also cited a current series of workshops for 18–20 participants from six to seven language groups in Peru for training in literacy instructional materials revision. These programs provide some of the means to keep the momentum moving.

SIL's part in the larger literacy picture is to focus on the minority language communities of the world, for whom literacy programs are generally delivered in a national or official language that they may not even understand. Literacy and education programs that are carried out in the language of the community make it possible for local people to really participate in the learning process, and to gain the knowledge and skills they seek.

One of SIL's primary activities is to support ethnolinguistic communities in their efforts to develop education programs that enable adults and children to become fluent readers and writers of their own mother tongues, empowering them to gain fluency in a language of wider communication. SIL responds to requests from local, regional and national agencies to assist minority language communities in developing culturally appropriate bilingual and multilingual education programs.

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