This week in Learning World we highlight one of the organisations that plays a key role in education, UNESCO. Motivated by its mission to build peace, eradicate poverty and maintain global sustainable development, UNESCO has set a range of objectives. One of them is quality education for all.
Africa is one of UNESCO’s global priorities. The organisation’s statistics show that nearly a quarter of its 383 programmes are already operating there.
In Mozambique, UNESCO’s programme ‘Families without Illiteracy’ trains children to teach their own families to read and write. Partly as a result of this initiative, illiteracy in Mozambique has dropped from 90 percent to just under 50 percent today.
Adult Education Institute Director Carlos Ramos explained that with education “comes general knowledge and understanding. Knowledge of health issues, agriculture, culture, political issues – all this comes with literacy – it is really an urgent need.”
We also spoke to the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and asked her “Unesco is leading the global movement for education for all. You have set yourself a lofty target – providing basic quality education from children through to adults by 2015. Is this really achievable?
Irina Bokova replied: “We have seen enormous progress and we have to admit that. But still the challenge is in the quality of education, now the question is not only basic primary education enrolment, but also quality education, it is a question of equity – of education for both boys – and girls and the big question is literacy.”
Our next question was: “We’ve noticed in Learning World that some of the brightest, most innovative ideas are not actually coming from governments, they seem to be coming from the private sector. Do you think it is time to stop relying on governments?”
Irina Bokova answered: “No, I believe that governments have still the primary responsibility for educating their people. When I say this I can give many examples where good government policies have brought a real change and we see an effort in Bangladesh, and I always give this example, with the enrolment of girls where the right government policies have seen a parity of girls and boys in schools.”
Finally we asked the Director-General of UNESCO: “You mentioned Bangladesh and female access to education, but there is still a huge disparity worldwide. You are the first female head of UNESCO – is that an issue that is particularly dear to your heart?”
Irina Bokova replied: “Yes it is very dear to my heart. All scientific data, all statistics, show that if we have improvement in education, especially in secondary education for girls, there is improvement in poverty reduction, especially in health in children, early marriages are dropping down, there is the potential to be involved also in economic activity, their children can go to school, so its an immense change when we see girls enrolment in primary but especially secondary education.”
In Senegal, women buy fish and shellfish straight from the fishing boats, wash them, dry them, and sell them for a living. But their lives have changed in the last three years. Since 2007, UNESCO and the Senegalese Ministries for Education and Fisheries have been running training courses for these women. The aim was not only to teach the reading, writing and maths, but also to improve hygiene, packaging and storing of the fish in order to increase profits.
Earning around 20 to 30 euros a week, it is not easy for these women to feed a family of up to a dozen people. Keeping track of their expenses helps them plan their daily lives. They write everything down in a notebook.
But that is not all. Most of the women already have children, and now they want to set up a creche for their children, near the beach. It is a plan for the future but shows what can happen when people gain an education.
You can find here the entire interview with Irina Bokova.