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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – Improving Literacy Worldwide - 2003-09-21

Broadcast: September 22, 2003

This is Bob Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Literacy, by its most basic meaning, is the ability to read and write. The United Nations says world literacy rates improved from seventy percent in nineteen-eighty to eighty-percent in two-thousand. Yet recent estimates show that more than eight-hundred-sixty-million adults are illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women.

In addition, the U-N says more than one-hundred-million children, mostly girls, cannot attend school. For more than fifty years, the right to education has been recognized within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In two-thousand a World Education Forum took place in Dakar, Senegal. Leaders of countries approved several goals to end illiteracy. These goals included free schooling for all children at the primary level. They also included an equal right to education for both girls and boys.

The U-N children’s agency, UNICEF, says the progress made against illiteracy could be lost unless more action is taken immediately. In Africa, for example, UNICEF say millions of new teachers are needed to educate a growing number of students. Schools have lost many teachers because of the H-I-V virus and AIDS.

UNICEF also says hunger and natural disasters have created huge refugee populations. And officials in some countries have to deal with repairing schools damaged or destroyed by conflicts.

The goal of the U-N is to reduce illiteracy rates by half by two-thousand-fifteen. As part of this effort, it has declared two-thousand-three to two-thousand-twelve United Nations Literacy Decade. The message of the campaign is "literacy as freedom."

The first World Literacy Day was observed on September eighth. Secretary General Kofi Annan reminded countries that higher literacy rates can help reduce poverty. He said greater literacy can also increase democratic development and strengthen economic growth.

Mister Annan also spoke of the need for literacy as a way to improve the lives of women. He said this is why the first two years of the U-N campaign will pay special attention to women’s literacy issues.

You can learn more about the United Nations Literacy Decade on the UNESCO Web site. The address is w-w-w dot u-n-e-s-c-o dot o-r-g. (

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. I’m Bob Cohen.