Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO
Audrey Azoulay Director General UNESCO
Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO

More than 260 million children are not in school globally, causing a de facto exclusion from society and perpetuate a spiral of social inequalities and gender inequalities, Audrey Azoulay, Director General, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in her World Literacy Day message on Saturday.

She stated that six out of 10 children and adolescents – around 617 million – do not acquire the minimum skills in literacy and numeracy, while 750 million young people and adults still cannot read and write – and among them, two-thirds are women.

World Literacy Day is celebrated annually on September 8 and this year’s theme is: “Literacy and Skills Development” and it focuses on this evolving approach to education.

“Literacy is the first step towards freedom, towards liberation from social and economic constraints. It is the prerequisite for development, both individual and collective. It reduces poverty and inequality, creates wealth, and helps to eradicate problems of nutrition and public health,” Azoulay declared.

UNESCO is actively engaged in the redefinition of literacy policies and encourages innovative educational practices. It also supports various forms of public and private sector cooperation, since only a comprehensive understanding of the education cause can enable an appropriate response to the needs of a world that seems to be reinventing itself every day.

The UNESCO Director General exhorted, “On this International Day, I call on all stakeholders in the world of education, and beyond, because it is a cause that concerns us all, to mobilize so that the ideal of a fully literate global society becomes more of a reality.”

She maintained that though a broad-based movement of literacy and the democratization of access to education have helped all regions of the world to make considerable progress, and millions of men and women have been lifted from ignorance and dependency, however, the prospect of a world in which every individual has fundamental knowledge remains an ideal.

“A new challenge is now being added to this: a world in flux, where the pace of technological innovation is continuously accelerating. In order to find a place in society, get a job, and respond to social, economic and environmental challenges, traditional literacy and numeracy skills are no longer enough; new skills, including in information and communication technology, are becoming increasingly necessary,” Azoulay further explained.

According to her, preparing young people and adults for jobs, the majority of which have not yet been invented, still poses a challenge, adding that accessing lifelong learning, taking advantage of pathways between different forms of training, and benefiting from greater opportunities for mobility has become indispensable.

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