Tuesday, September 19, 2006

UNESCO hails White House Conference on Global Literacy a great success

Mrs. Laura Bush and Mr. Koїchiro Matsuura ©Susan Sterner

Yesterday's Conference, which was being held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly sessions this week, was attended by Pesident Bush, U.S Secretary of States Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, First Ladies, First Spouses and decision-makers from around the world.

Laura Bush, Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade, contended that “ending illiteracy is a challenge for every country. And every government must do its part by investing in the education of its people”. “The investment”, the First Lady added "is always worthwhile, because investing in literacy and education helps governments meet their fundamental obligations, by improving opportunities for children and families, by strengthening their economies, and by keeping their citizens in good health.” The First Lady further stated that “countries prosper with an educated workforce”, and called governments and private sector organizations to allocate resources to literacy initiatives.

She announced a US$1 million contribution form the United States to support UNESCO's Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Program (LAMP)*. Spelling out the three most important benefits of reading: “Literacy instruction for women improves educational opportunities for their children -- women who can read are advocates for their children's education; literacy helps adults make informed decisions to protect their health and the health of their children; and literacy helps adults -- women and men -- learn the basic financial skills that generate income, that foster independence, and that boost local economies.", Mrs. Bush invited all governments to join.

President Bush backed his wife's speech and pointed out the impact that reading has on the positive transformation of nations. He defined literacy’s capacity to “yield the peace we all want”. To this end, not only did President Bush encourage governments to get involved in this cause, he also called upon businesses to engage in the global effort towards literacy whilst reminding that such initiatives “will help spread prosperity and peace”.

“It is very hard to have free societies if the citizens cannot read. It's much harder for a society to realize the universal blessings of liberty if your citizens can't read the newspaper in order to be able to make informed choices and decisions about what may be taking place in a country. You can't realize the blessings of liberty if you can't read a ballot, or if you can't read what others are saying about the future of your country.”

Welcoming the remarks made by Laura and George W. Bush, as well as the generous pledge to UNESCO LAMP, Mr. Matssura, director General of UNESCO, confirmed UNESCO’s commitment to providing “literacy to all as a basic human rights” and announced a series of Regional Literacy Conferences. These high-level conferences will aim at building cooperation and mobilizing resources for concrete interventions. The first of its kind will take place in Qatar March 12th-14th, 2007. Regional Conferences for Europe and Central Asia, Africa and Latin America will follow. As for the Asia-Pacific Region, a decision will soon be announced.

* Through LAMP, many countries are working to determine which people in their country cannot read, where people live who cannot read, and why people can't read.

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