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International Literacy Day 2011: Literacy for Peace

“In today’s knowledge driven societies, lack of literacy is more than ever synonymous with exclusion and marginalization…

Investing in literacy programs is a sensible and essential development choice. Literacy is a key component of strategies to promote sustainable development and peace. It is central to achieving Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals.”

-Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

(September 2011) SIL representatives around the world joined in observances of the annual UN-declared International Literacy Day on 8 September. This year’s theme, “Literacy for Peace”, recognizes the vital link between the ability to read and access to basic human rights.

One of the many worldwide celebrations of International Literacy Day was held in Bafia, a small town in Cameroon, about two hours drive from the capital, Yaoundé. SIL Cameroon Director Nelis van den Berg was in attendance. Cameroon’s Minister of Youth, who is responsible for literacy, presided over the community’s annual celebration of International Literacy Day. The event included a festive parade, addresses from local officials and a demonstration featuring a model mother-tongue literacy lesson.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova points to three ways in which literacy promotes both development and peace:

Worldwide, an estimated 793 million adults lack basic literacy skills. The connection between access to education and economic parity is clear when one considers that the distribution of illiteracy is not consistent throughout the world, but heavily concentrated in the developing world.

A special focus of this year’s International Literacy Day is the issue of equal access to education for both men and women. Around the world, illiteracy rates are significantly higher among women. Research (such as a 2010 study by the US National Institutes of Health) has shown that a mother’s education level is a factor which greatly influences the academic success of her children. As education serves an important role in helping to break the cycle of poverty, the role of women’s literacy as a force for development should not be underestimated.

SIL partners with local communities and other organizations to support literacy efforts for both adults and children around the world. SIL's vision for language programs is to see literacy become a sustainable community value with the ownership of literacy goals and activities in the hands of the people. SIL serves as an advocate with and for ethnolinguistic communities, linking them to supportive resources, and assisting them in increasing capacity to build sustainable language development programs. As an INGO, SIL has special consultative status with ECOSOC and formal consultative relations with UNESCO.

1The Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education Network points to a lack of educational opportunity as a factor in social unrest, and conversely, access to education (specifically mother-tongue education) as making a strong contribution to social stability.

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