Now read this: How Saudi Ara­bia is aim­ing to end il­lit­er­acy by 2024

The Miracle - - Youth -

DUBAI: Saudi Ara­bia’s goal to erad­i­cate il­lit­er­acy has been ap­plauded by in­ter­na­tional ex­perts and ed­u­ca­tional bod­ies, who say the King­dom is a role model for coun­tries in the Arab world, where more than a quar­ter of women, men and chil­dren are un­able to read or write. Ear­lier this year, Saudi Ara­bia pledged to raise its lit­er­acy rate from 94.4 per­cent to 100 per­cent by 2024, and ex­perts say the King­dom can now play a ma­jor part in help­ing to erad­i­cate il­lit­er­acy in the wider re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to the Project Lit­er­acy al­liance, a coali­tion of char­i­ties and busi­nesses, il­lit­er­acy is a ma­jor bar­rier to world­wide eco­nomic devel­op­ment, cost­ing at least $1 tril­lion (SR3.75 tril­lion) per year. It says that to­day about 750 mil­lion adults world­wide are un­able to read or write. “If the King­dom is able to make the in­vest­ment to erad­i­cate il­lit­er­acy in their coun­try, it will be a great ex­am­ple to other coun­tries in the Arab world, and worth shar­ing best prac­tices and the model they used for their suc­cess,” Ale­sha An­der­son, se­nior pro­gram of­fi­cer for Pro-Lit­er­acy, an­other ad­vo­cacy group, told Arab News. An­der­son hailed the King­dom’s ef­forts to boost lit­er­acy rates, es­pe­cially the coun­try’s projects to tackle adult il­lit­er­acy. Ac­cord­ing to Saudi Ara­bia’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion (MOE), the cur­rent lit­er­acy rate was achieved by boost­ing en­rol­ment in thou­sands of schools, vo­ca­tional col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, with the aim of achiev­ing 100 per­cent lit­er­acy by 2024. Among its many ini­tia­tives, the MOE has rolled out adult ed­u­ca­tion cen­ters across the King­dom, in­tro­duced life­long learn­ing ini­tia­tives, neigh­bor­hood learn­ing pro­grams, ed­u­ca­tional and lit­er­acy cam­paigns in re­mote ar­eas of the coun­try and im­ple­mented fi­nan­cially based re­ward pro­grams to work to­ward an il­lit­er­acy-free so­ci­ety. The gov­ern­ment has also granted $51 bil­lion to the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor in 2018 as part of Vi­sion 2030, its am­bi­tious pro­gram to re­duce eco­nomic de­pen­dency on oil sales. Since launch­ing the Adult Ed­u­ca­tion and Lit­er­acy Sys­tem in 1972, and the Gen­eral Sec­re­tariat for Adult Ed­u­ca­tion and Lit­er­acy in 1977, the coun­try has seen il­lit­er­acy rates fall from 60 per­cent in 1972 to 5.6 per­cent in 2018. “Hav­ing a 100 per­cent lit­er­acy rate is am­bi­tious, but when a gov­ern­ment makes a com­mit­ment to ad­dress adult lit­er­acy is­sues in their coun­try, we are ex­cited as adults can often be left out of the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion agenda and fund­ing for adult ed­u­ca­tion is often non-ex­is­tent or very low,” said An­der­son. “Yet re­search sug­gests that in­vest­ing in youth and adults (par­tic­u­larly moth­ers) can di­rectly im­pact and im­prove rates for chil­dren’s lit­er­acy as well. “Lim­ited fund­ing and vis­i­bil­ity are given to the is­sue of adult lit­er­acy on a global scale, and the pro­posed cam­paign the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia is plan­ning has the po­ten­tial to im­pact 27 coun­tries in the Arab world by pro­mot­ing and shar­ing the re­sults of their pro­gram.” An­der­son said Saudi Ara­bia and the neigh­bor­ing UAE, which also has sev­eral ini­tia­tives un­der­way to im­prove lit­er­acy rates, could use their po­lit­i­cal and geo­graphic in­flu­ence to lead the way in the adult lit­er­acy dis­course across the re­gion. “They can do this both in terms of pro­vid­ing fund­ing to lower-in­come coun­tries, and by start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion and ad­vo­cat­ing for the im­por­tance of lit­er­acy, es­pe­cially for women and girls.” An­der­son said Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries that have strong economies and are ad­vanced in their devel­op­ment tended to have higher lit­er­acy rates. How­ever, there was still a sig­nif­i­cant need for lit­er­acy, es­pe­cially in the adult pop­u­la­tion, for many coun­tries in the re­gion. “The dis­par­ity in lit­er­acy rates is es­pe­cially ev­i­dent in look­ing at the vari­ance be­tween lit­er­acy rates for men and women. In places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Mo­rocco, Ye­men and Su­dan, women’s il­lit­er­acy rates, in par­tic­u­lar, tend to be high. For ex­am­ple, the lit­er­acy rate, for adult fe­males (ages 15 and above) in Egypt was re­ported at 68.06 per­cent in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. In Afghanistan, more than three times as many men as women are lit­er­ate. Some 47 per­cent of Afghan men and a mere 15 per­cent of women can read and write, ac­cord­ing to the UN Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF).” Ac­cord­ing to Project Lit­er­acy, two-thirds of the world­wide il­lit­er­ate pop­u­la­tion are women. Fur­ther­more, 123 mil­lion 15- to 24-yearolds in the world to­day can­not read or write. “Fe­male lit­er­acy is ab­so­lutely im­por­tant and should be a pri­or­ity in the Arab re­gion. Ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for women is still ex­tremely lim­ited, es­pe­cially in coun­tries that re­strict women’s role in so­ci­ety,” An­der­son said. “Re­search shows that ed­u­cat­ing a mother re­sults in her chil­dren and com­mu­nity also be­ing ed­u­cated be­cause she will pass it on. De­spite cul­tural re­stric­tions for women, there are ways to in­clude women in the ed­u­ca­tion process. For ex­am­ple, we have a part­ner pro­gram in Afghanistan that has ed­u­cated women by only reg­is­ter­ing men in a class if they agree to bring their wife or sis­ter. In this way, women are al­lowed to learn along­side men and not ex­cluded from the lit­er­acy class.” Tra­di­tion­ally, An­der­son said, bar­ri­ers to suc­cess in na­tional or large-scale lit­er­acy cam­paigns in­clude lack of teacher train­ing, cur­ricu­lum and sup­port for learn­ers af­ter achiev­ing a cer­tain level of lit­er­acy. De­spite the so­cial ben­e­fits, tack­ling il­lit­er­acy has huge eco­nomic ad­van­tages. Each year, il­lit­er­acy costs a de­vel­oped na­tion 2 per­cent of its GDP, an emerg­ing econ­omy 1.2 per­cent of its GDP and a de­vel­op­ing coun­try 0.5 per­cent of its GDP, she said. The UN de­fines il­lit­er­acy as “the in­abil­ity to read and write a sim­ple mes­sage in any lan­guage.” While Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE are set­ting bench­marks to tackle il­lit­er­acy, other coun­tries across the Mid­dle East paint a more dire pic­ture, with Afghanistan top­ping the high­est il­lit­er­acy rates (72 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion over the age of 15), fol­lowed by Pak­istan (50 per­cent), Mau­ri­ta­nia (49 per­cent), Mo­rocco (48 per­cent) and Ye­men (46 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to the Global Cam­paign for Ed­u­ca­tion. An­drew Kay, CEO and founder of the World Lit­er­acy Foun­da­tion, said al­most 20 per­cent of the global pop­u­la­tion was il­lit­er­ate, while in the Arab re­gion, 27.1 per­cent of peo­ple were un­able to read or write. “This means that even these ba­sic ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards are un­met,” said Kay. “De­spite sig­nif­i­cant progress since the 1980s, the black cloud of il­lit­er­acy is still weigh­ing heav­ily on some Arab coun­tries that are go­ing through a crit­i­cal phase and fac­ing tremen­dous po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic chal­lenges. “Saudi Ara­bia’s lit­er­acy rates are much bet­ter than other coun­tries in the re­gion, although there are still dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple that strug­gle to read. In­creased fund­ing and a holis­tic gov­ern­ment ap­proach is a step in the right di­rec­tion, but we need to en­sure the spe­cial­ist lit­er­acy sup­port goes to the peo­ple where there is the great­est need. “Often mi­nori­ties, mi­grants and dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple have low-level lit­er­acy skills. There­fore, pro­vid­ing gen­der equal­ity and fair­ness to all peo­ple in our lit­er­acy sup­port and in­ter­ven­tion is fun­da­men­tal.” Kay said oil-rich coun­tries such as Saudi Ara­bia could help its Arab neigh­bors through “lead­ing by ex­am­ple,” and pro­vid­ing lit­er­acy grants,

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