Literacy: From all to “a substantial proportion of adults”

Autor: Rosa-María-Torres-del-Castillohttp–wwwbloggercom-profile-1. Mas de : este autor

Between 1980 and 2015 the goal referred to youth and adult literacy went from “eradicating illiteracy” (Major Project of Education, 1980-2000) to “all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy“ (Sustainable Development Goals, 2015-2030).

In other words: current Sustainable Development Goals propose universal literacy for youth (15 to 25 year-olds) and an undefined goal for people beyond 25 years of age. This contradicts the Lifelong Learning rhetoric as well as SDG 4, referred to education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.”

Major Project for Education (1980-2000) | UNESCO-OREALC

In 1980, the Major Project of Education for Latin America and the Caribbean – MPE (1980-2000) was approved in Mexico. MPE was coordinated by UNESCO's Regional Office in Santiago de Chile. MPE proposed to achieve three goals until the year 2000. One of them was “eradicating illiteracy”. The final evaluation of the project, in 2000, revealed that the goals were not met. 
 
1. Eight to ten years' minimum schooling for all children of school age;
2. Eradication of illiteracy and expansion of educational facilities for adults;
3. Improving the quality and efficiency of educational systems and education in general, through the implementation of necessary reforms and effective systems designed for measuring learning.


Education for All (1990-2000)
| UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank

The Education for All (EFA) world initiative was approved in1990 at the World Conference on Education for All held in Jomtien-Thailand. EFA proposed six basic education goals that covered children, youth and adults, in and out of school. One of those goals (goal 4) was reducing the adult illiteracy rate by half. EFA's evaluation, presented in 2000 at the World Education Forum in Dakar, concluded that the goals were not met. The decision was taken to postpone the goals for another 15 years. 
 
1.
Expansion of early childhood care and development activities, including family and community interventions, especially for poor, disadvantaged and disabled children.
2.
Universal access to, and completion of, primary education (or whatever higher
level  of education is considered “basic”) by 2000.

3.
Improvement in learning achievement such that an agreed percentage of an appropriate age cohort (e.g. 80% of 14 year-olds) attains or surpasses a defined level of necessary learning achievement.
4.
Reduction in the adult illiteracy rate (the appropriate age cohort to be determined in each country) to, say, one-half its 1990 level by the year 2000, with sufficient emphasis on female literacy to significantly reduce the current disparity between the male and female illiteracy rates.
5.
Expansion of provision of basic education and training in other essential skills required by youth and adults, with programme effectiveness assessed in terms of behavioural changes and impacts on health, employment and productivity.
6.
Increased acquisition by individuals and families of the knowledge, skills and values required for better living and sound and sustainable development, made available through all educational channels including the mass media, other forms of modern and traditional communication, and social action, with effectiveness assessed in terms of behavioural change.

Education for All (2000-2015)
| UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank

In 2000, at the World Education Forum held in Dakar-Senegal, the six EFA goals were ratified, with some modifications. The goal referred to literacy (goal 4) remained as
“achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy”. EFA's final evaluation in 2015 confirmed that the goals were not met. EFA remained as an “unfinished agenda”.

1. Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
2. 
Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
3.
Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes.
4.
Achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.
5.
Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.
6.
Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence for all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015)
| United Nations 

In 2000 the United Nations launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), a global multisectoral agenda with eight goals to be achieved by 2015. The goal referred to education – Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education- focused on children (completing four years of schooling). It was not met. The MDGs did not include a goal for adult literacy. 


Sustainable Development Goals – SDG (2015-2030)
| United Nations

In 2015, once both EFA and MDG goals had reached their deadline, the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030) were approved. The Agenda 2030 was organized around 17 goals. SDG 4 refers to education: 

SDG 4 encompasses 10 targets summarized as follows:
4.1 Universal primary and secondary education
4.2 Early childhood development and universal pre-primary education
4.3 Equal access to technical/vocational and higher education
4.4 Relevant skills for decent work
4.5 Gender equality and inclusion
4.6 Universal youth and adult literacy
4.7 Education for sustainable development and global citizenship
4.a Effective learning environments
4.b Expand the number of scholarships available to developing countries
4.c Increase the supply of qualified teachers
.

The target related to literacy (target 4.6) reads “by 2030, ensure all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.“


According to UNESCO (2016 data, projected to 2017),
in 2017 there are 260 million children who cannot read and write, and 750 million adults in the same condition. Women continue to be two thirds of the adult illiterates. 102 million are young people between 15 and 24 years fo age. Globally, between 2000 and 2015, the youth and adult literacy rate increased only 4%.

In terms of age, literacy rates are organized as follows:
– 86%: 15+
– 91%: 15 to 24
– 86%: 15 to 64 
– 78%: 65+

In most countries, literacy/illiteracy data continue to be collected through census and house surveys where people have to respond Yes or No to the question of whether they are illiterate. 

¿Lifelong Learning opportunities for all?

With regards to youth and adult literacy goals, between
1980 and 2015 we have passed from “eradicating illiteracy” to ensuring universal literacy for youth and reaching “a substantial proportion of adults.”. 

UNESCO document Unpacking Sustainable Development Goal 4: Education 2030 (2017) clarifies that target 4.6 understands 'youth' as 15 to 25 years of age.

The document also explains that (p. 13):

“The principles, strategies and actions for this target are underpinned by the contemporary understanding of literacy as a continuum of proficiency levels in a given context. It goes beyond the understanding of a simple dichotomy of ‘literate’ versus ‘illiterate’. Therefore, action for this target aims at ensuring that by 2030, all young people and adults across the world should have achieved relevant and recognized proficiency levels in functional literacy and numeracy skills that are equivalent to levels achieved at successful completion of basic
education.”

However, target 4.6 indicates that it is not all young people and adults who will be made literate. Moreover, a summary of the global goals indicates that only young people will be taken into account (p. 16).

In the 1970s and 1980s we criticized the “eradication of illiteracy” for its grotesque language and its simplified vision of illiteracy and literacy.

Today, the SDG Agenda proposes universal literacy for youth and reaching “a substantial proportion of adults.” Once again, we must expect adult literacy to have no priority.

This happens at a time when Lifelong Learning is proposed by UNESCO as the educational paradigm for the 21st century and in the framework of an education goal that promises toEnsure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

 
To know more

»
UNESCO Institute for Statistics – Literacy

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