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    25 August 1999
    Secretary-General Seeks Concerted Effort to Improve
     Education, Reduce Number of World's Illiterate

     Message for International Literacy Day - 8 September - Notes
     Role for United Nations, UNESCO, Member States and Civil Society


    NEW YORK, 24 August (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text of a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mark the observance, on 8 September, of International Literacy Day:

     There are 880 million illiterates in the world today.  Two-thirds of them are women.  More than 120 million children are deprived of all education, formal or informal.  Unless we step up our commitment to literacy, they will be the adult illiterates of tomorrow.  This International Literacy Day is an occasion for us to focus our efforts.

     The latest United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates give us cause for hope.  The percentage of adults illiterates in the world has steadily declined from more than one-third in 1970 to a quarter in 1990.  It is projected to drop below one-fifth in the beginning of the new millennium. 

     But literacy goes beyond learning how to read and write, and building a literate world requires more than literacy programmes alone.  The United Nations family and Member States must work jointly to build societies, where literacy is integrated into overall development efforts.  We must aim to create competence and skills that enable people to confront and solve problems, formulate their own visions of development and make informed judgements in all decision-making processes.  We must optimize the use of technologies, both traditional and new, to help bridge the knowledge gap.  We must strive to provide lifelong learning opportunities for all.

     That means working as a team.  The United Nations and UNESCO, the lead United Nations agency in education, relies on cooperation with all United Nations Member States, financial partners, civil society associations and the hundreds of thousands of literacy workers - most of them volunteers - around the world.  It requires us to work in genuine partnerships with the 880 million illiterate adults, and 120 million children and young people who are not in school.  It calls for continuous dialogue with the learners, and for their participation in the decisions concerning them.

     Above all, it requires the financial, ethical and political commitment of the entire international community.  On this last International Literacy Day of the twentieth century, let us  renew that commitment in the hope that no one will be doomed to illiteracy by the end of the twenty-first.

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