The Right of Education
By Morgan Kirk
March 23, 2012
Illiteracy, the condition of being unable to read or write in any language—it almost sounds like a fatal disease, and it’s spreading across the world’s population. The most updated statistics estimate there to be nearly 800 million illiterate people in the world, 64 percent of which are women. These people are the most impoverished and marginalized in our society, but according to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, education is a basic human right that everyone has. If education is a freedom of equality, why are there millions of illiterates in our global communities? What is being done to make education accessible to all? And what is the cure for illiteracy?
Establishment of the United Nations Literacy Decade, which stretches from 2003 to 2012, may be the answer to these questions. The Decade works under the motto: “Literacy for all: voice for all, learning for all.” To mark the Decade back in 2003, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “We are here because we know that literacy is the key to unlocking the cage of human misery; the key to delivering the potential of every human being; the key to opening up a future of freedom and hope.”
There are six guidelines that the Decade proposed in their plan of action: policy changes, flexible programs, capacity-building, empirical research, community participation and evaluation, and an alphabet soup of acronyms, each representing UN agencies, like UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities), UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) and UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative) have stepped forward to achieve the Decade’s goals.
The Global Campaign for Education also has similar objectives with its Millennium Development Goals, including those for universal primary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Kailash Satyarthi, GCE chairperson, says, “Enabling girls to attend school is literally a matter of life and death. Education, especially for girls and women, is the best way to break the cycle of ill health, hunger and poverty.”
Both the Literacy Decade and GCE fall under the broader umbrella of Education for All, which proposes a literacy rate increase of 50 percent by 2015. These organizations agree that basic education is a solution to the world’s social concerns, especially for the percentage of women who are unaware of the options and possibilities open to them. “We know from study after study that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said during the launch of the Decade. “When women are educated and empowered, the benefits can be seen immediately …” According to Fréchette, a better education would increase HIV/AIDS awareness and decrease unwanted pregnancies. Overall, women’s health would improve with the introduction of sexual health and knowledge of disease prevention.
Gradually, the training and education for women is beginning to demonstrate positive outcomes. A joint report from several UN agencies titled, “Women and HIV/AIDS: Confronting the Crisis,” gives recent examples of educational improvements for women:
- In Vietnam, the national curriculum for 10th through 12th grades includes reproductive health and HIV/AIDS education.
- In Botswana, teenage pregnancy has decreased due to continuing education for young women.
- In Zambia, women who now receive eight or more years of education are less likely to live in poverty.
- Bangladesh and Ethiopia have seen a reduction in child marriage as a result of educating women.
- Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and other countries have implemented free primary education as well.
In a press release this September, the Afghanistan Girls’ Education Initiative in conjunction with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education announced the development of a three-year plan to improve girls’ education in Kabul. The new program is a radical progression from the time when the Taliban ruled, and the oppressive force forbid girls to receive an education. Roshan Khadivi, the UNICEF External Relations Officer, writes about the changes she has seen in Afghanistan as well. “More than 4.89 million children in Afghanistan are going to school and 48,000 women, even in remote villages, attend 1,782 literacy centres,” she states. “Extraordinary things do and will continue to take place in this country.”
Progress is underway in these countries and many others, as literacy rates soar and educational opportunities arise. With more programs in establishment, more organizations joining the cause and such days of awareness like the International Literacy Day on Sept. 8 and the World Teachers Day on Oct. 5, the world is beginning to acknowledge the important role education plays in our global society. You can go to these link to find out more about the United Nations Literacy Decade or the Global Campaign for Education.