The celebration of International Literacy Day on 8 September has put a spotlight on the universal right to education again, especially for children and adolescents. This year, we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of this International Day and UNESCO, with the slogan, “Reading the past, writing the future”, has sought to point out the importance of education for the construction of the future of every individual and to take care of the Earth and manage its resources in a more appropriate and sustainable way. “Literacy” – said UNESCO General Director – “is the foundation for building a more sustainable future for everyone.”
The 2016 edition of this event, which was held in Paris, highlighted the efforts and progress made in this direction in the past five decades, both on a national and international level. It also addressed the current problems and innovative solutions needed to further improve our endeavors towards global literacy. Despite the progress made, however, the international community has failed to achieve fully what was one of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015: universal primary education. Unfortunately, in the last few years, this process has known a significant slowdown. According to the latest data provided by UNESCO and UNICEF, there are still 63 million teenagers aged between 15 and 17 in the world who are deprived of their right to education.
On a global scale, 121 million children and teenagers have either never started school or dropped out of it. In practice, a teenager out of five does not attend school and one child in 11 does not attend primary school. Little girls are the main victim of this condition: some of them are forced to stay at home and lose opportunity to grow on a personal, cultural and professional level. They also lose opportunity to get rid of some ancient vestiges and cultural practices, especially in certain regions of the world, which often impose a life they have never chosen, in a condition of slavery and submission. Such is the case with the phenomenon of the so-called “child brides”.
Obviously, this problem affects the most girls and boys who live in extreme poverty and conflict situations. Already in 2013, the Syrian Ministry of Education had recorded a 34% decline in enrollment rates to elementary and high schools. Among Syrian refugee-children in Lebanon, the primary school enrollment rate (6-14 year-old children) barely reached 12%. Eritrea and Liberia are currently the countries with the highest rate of children who drop out of school early (66% and 59% of children respectively who do not attend primary school. A similar situation in Pakistan, where 58% of teenagers between 12 and 15 years are out of school. In Nigeria, two-thirds of the children from the poorest families do not attend school and almost 90% of them probably will never have a chance to do so. Two thousand sixteen is also the first year of implementation of the Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030.
Literacy is an integral part of the latter: the Sustainable Development Objective number 4. It aims to ensure inclusive, equitable, and quality education, and promotes universal learning opportunities for life. The goal is to make sure that by 2030 all children and young people and at least a substantial proportion of adults, men and women, have reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
The Italian National Coordination Women believes that global literacy an important goal, not only to ensure the exercise of a fundamental right, which concern the development of every individual and the general social progress, but also to promote the principle of equality and equal opportunities between men and women in every country and cultural context. We hope, therefore, that the international community will increase its efforts to fully achieve and set deadlines – according to the new Agenda 2030 -, while promoting a policy of pacification in different geographical areas that are currently involved in a conflict, which make this process much more difficult and complex.