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Literacy is a basic right, guaranteed under the fundamental right to education enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Literacy is also an important tool to empower people and communities so as to enable them to enjoy their rights such as the right to health, right to information, right to justice and right to freedom.

Yet more than a sixth of the world’s adult population cannot read or write. In a world increasingly driven by knowledge and technology, a staggering 796 million adults are illiterate according to the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011. In the Asia and Pacific region, there are 518 million adult illiterates accounting for 65.7 per cent of the world's illiterate population. Progress towards goal 4 of the Education for All (EFA) – rising adult literacy levels by 50 percent by 2015 – has been slow and uneven. 

Absence of literacy is strongly correlated with poverty. Also, illiteracy usually attacks the most vulnerable people in society. Illiteracy rates are higher among ethnic and linguistic minorities and people living in remote areas. Of the total illiterate adults two-thirds are women. While some countries in the Asia and Pacific region have made significant progress in literacy during the last two decade, women and other disadvantaged groups are still being denied their light to literacy.

Literacy for all is at the heart of basic education for all and creating literate environments and societies is essential for achieving the goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. Literacy is the common thread that runs through the six goals of EFA. Indeed, the acquisition of stable and sustainable literacy skills by all will ensure that people can actively participate in a range of learning opportunities throughout life. Literacy for all is the foundation for lifelong learning for all and a tool for empowering individuals and their communities.

The first half of the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD. 2003-2012) saw positive and encouraging progress in raising the profile of literacy. Strengthened action in many countries made literacy rates rise and there is a stronger awareness that literacy needs everywhere are changing and must be addressed in innovative ways. However, progress overall is insufficient and the literacy challenge in today’s world remains urgent and large-scale. A number of key challenges for ‘Literacy for All’ remains, which include low priority, inadequate policies and planning, inadequate coordination and lack of partnerships, inappropriate organizational frameworks, insufficient information on what works, low quality, lack of data on literacy levels and needs, poor understanding of context, lack of monitoring and evaluation, and inadequate financial resources.

Responding to the needs in the region, APPEAL focuses on four strategic areas of action to achieve the overall objective of furthering literacy as a foundation for lifelong learning.

APPEAL’s Strategic Areas of Action for Literacy

  • Advocacy for literacy through promoting the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD 2003-2012) in the region
  • Supporting regional and country efforts within a strategic framework of the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) for achieving UNLD and EFA goals 
  • Capacity building of literacy personnel in planning and management, curriculum development and materials design, teaching and learning strategies and methodologies, training of trainers and facilitators, and monitoring and evaluation
  • Supporting Member States in enhancing literacy programme design and delivery

Defining Literacy 

‘Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve his or her goals, develop his or her knowledge and potential and participate fully in community and wider society’ 

(UNESCO. 2005. Aspects of Literacy Assessment: Topics and issues from the UNESCO Expert Meeting, 10-12 June, 2003)