The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or Unesco, has long been a champion of increased literacy around the world. Since 1946, the specialized agency of the United Nations has fostered educational programs that “further universal respect for justice and the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion.”
Unfortunately for UNESCO and its benefactors, namely impoverished citizens of third world nations, developing countries’ “legacy of illiteracy” has made their mandate harder to achieve. Educational institutions remain highly inaccessible and a poor quality of education has left an estimated 175 million young black people without basic literacy skills.
Disproportionately, illiteracy affects women at a much higher rate than men. Women constitute 2/3 of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults, a fact contributable to underwhelming rates of female school enrollment.
The organization’s annual report titled, “Education for All Global Monitoring Report,” indicated an alarmingly high global illiteracy rate, with one in four youths in developing countries unable to read a sentence.
In the report’s foreword, Unesco director-general Irina Bokova asks for greater assistance in fighting illiteracy, including increased funding and an overhaul of problematic teaching practices.
“As this Report shows, equality in access and learning must stand at the heart of future education goals,” said Bokova. “We must ensure that all children and young people are learning the basics and that they have the opportunity to acquire the transferable skills needed to become global citizens.”
According to the report, an estimated 57 million children do not have access to schools, while 250 million of the children that are enrolled do not learn basic skills, despite half of them already having four years of experience at school. These 250 million children represent $126 billion in wasted educational funds, states the report.
Part of this problem originates in poor standards of teaching. Of 162 countries evaluated, 26 had a pupil/teacher ratio in primary education in excess of 40:1, 23 of which were located in sub-Saharan Africa. However, simply increasing the number of teachers is not a solution unto itself. Hiring qualified teachers is essential to promoting literacy and remains one of Unesco’s main objectives.
In view of these results, Unesco stresses the importance literacy and education has on the rest of the UN’s developmental goals.
“Educate mothers, and you empower women and save children’s lives. Educate communities, and you transform societies and grow economies,” said Bokova.
– Emily Bajet