Baghdad, 8 September 2013 (UNESCO) - The 8th September of every year marks a special occasion with the world celebrating International Literacy Day. In 2013, this occasion takes an even deeper significance as this year's celebrations highlight a neglected, yet major aspect: placing education at the heart of development.
Under this year's theme, Literacies for the 21st Century, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in cooperation with the Government of Iraq, is holding two main events in Baghdad and Erbil to highlight the main achievements accomplished in the past years, and discuss future steps to be taken to ensure that literacy is invested as a tool to generate social and economic development.
To be attended by all stakeholders active in the field of literacy, including representatives from the Ministries of Education in Baghdad and Erbil, international organizations, Iraqi civil society organizations and NGOs, the events will feature the handover of 118 Community Learning Centres established with the support of UNESCO to the Government of Iraq, for them to be fully operated by the Ministries of Education.
These 118 centres have served successfully as models for what can be achieved through community participation and by bringing different stakeholders together to address an important educational challenge. Thanks to their wide distribution and focus on marginalized and vulnerable communities, the CLCs have effectively facilitated UNESCO's literacy interventions and delivering, in addition to life skills training, that allows for faster inclusion of illiterates into economic activities.
"Following the approval of the new Literacy Law in September 2011, the establishment of the National Literacy Agency for Iraq, and the endorsement by the Ministry of Education of the National Literacy Strategy that was prepared with the support of UNESCO, this step is seen as another milestone in the successful cooperation between UNESCO, the Iraqi Central government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the civil society organizations in the field of literacy", said UNESCO Iraq Office director Louise Haxthausen about the handover of the CLCs. Ms. Haxthausen also reassured UNESCO's commitment to support the Government of Iraq in reaching other marginalized populations' literacy needs, particularly refugees and internally displaced persons whose numbers are on the rise.
According to the latest data revealed by UNESCO, there are still 123 million illiterate youth (15-24 years old) in the world today, and two-thirds of them are young women. While these rates are closely associated to socio-economic setbacks such as poverty, health conditions, the life expectancy rate of new-born children, and gender disparities, there is an urgent need for a more practical and modern approach to delivering literacy. "Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future and the first step towards all the new forms of literacy required in the twenty-first century", stated the Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova in her annual message for the occasion.
For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning. Within the framework of the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) project, UNESCO is providing technical assistance and capacity building for relevant Iraqi governmental bodies and local NGOs, enabling them to design and implement inclusive and effective national literacy programmes in order to reach the Education for All (EFA) goal of halving illiteracy by 2015. UNESCO has been an integral contributor to the development of the National Literacy Strategy headed by the High Commission for Literacy, which called into being the Iraqi National Literacy Campaign. The Campaign has thus far targeted over 495,000 illiterate Iraqis, with another 500,000 illiterate students expected to begin classes this month in over 5,000 literacy centres around Iraq.