Every year, the world celebrates 8th of September as the International Literacy Day, to recognize the important role of literacy as the basis for poverty reduction, democratization, and sustainable development. International evidence demonstrates that literacy improves the quality of people’s lives as literate people are capable of seeking solutions for enhancing health and nutrition, proactively participate in community development, advance gender equality and have overall family happiness.
As we talk about the power of literacy, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics report of 2017, there are at least 750 million young people and adults who lack the basic literacy skills, of whom two-thirds are women and 102 million, are youth aged 15 to 24. Further, of the 192 million unemployed young people and adults worldwide, most lack the foundational skills, including literacy, which prevents them from learning new skills to adapt to the rapidly changing labour market. According to the World Literacy Foundation, “The cost of illiteracy to the global economy is estimated at USD $1.19 trillion.
At the same time, international evidence demonstrate that the children of literate parents are two to three times likely to be vaccinated in time, get proper nutrition, enroll in school in time, stay and complete school and have higher learning achievements. For example, during the last five years, Cambodia’s adult literacy rate grew more than 2.5% to 82.5%, which corresponded to higher net-enrollment rates, lower drop-outs and higher completion rates in primary and higher enrollments in lower-secondary. We are convinced that besides the ongoing reform efforts of the Royal Government, higher literacy rate played positive part in this.
Adult literacy is one of the four components of Human Asset Index (HAI). Other three being nutrition, under-five mortality rate and basic education completion. All the countries with high literacy rates perform better across all other three components as well. Further, the international trends in trade show that country’s HAI is an important factor in attracting foreign direct investments, and it is going to become even more prominent due to the Industry 4.0 and expansion of knowledge economy.
The Royal Government of Cambodia and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) recognize the vital role of literacy and lifelong learning in attaining national development goals. The Council of Ministers presided over by Samdech Prime Minister approved the National Lifelong Learning (LLL) Policy on Friday June 7, 2019. Through the National LLL Policy, the Royal Government has reiterated its commitment to equip people with attitudes, moral conducts and values in order to strengthen the national economy and promote lifelong harmony in society. Similarly the MoEYS has put in place the Cambodia’s SDG4-Education 2030 Roadmap providing the benchmarks for progress to achieve CSDG 4: Education by 2030 and the Education Strategic Plan (ESP) 2019-2023 details the actions to advance the literacy and skills development during the next five years.
This year, the International theme of Literacy Event is “Literacy and Multilingualism”, with the overall aim of reflecting on different dimensions of multilingualism in today’s globalized world for improved policies and practice for literacy. We are on the four year of implementation of the Education 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal 4, where Literacy is aligned with lifelong learning opportunities for all with special focus on youth and adults. In particular, 4.6 focuses on literacy ensuring that “By 2030, all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”.
In Cambodia, the Royal Government has decided to emphasize the importance of the connection of literacy and Life skill- “Literacy Linked with Life skill”. The Royal Government has entrusted the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) with the responsibility to eradicate illiteracy and focus on enhancing employability skills include technical and vocational skills, along with transferable skills and digital skills. In line with the global agenda, the MoEYS projects the adult literacy rate to rise from 82, 5% to 88.0% in 2019-2023 and 95.7% in 2030 (SDG4 Cambodia Roadmap, 2019).
To advance the literacy efforts, the Ministry is working with the national and international development partners. UNESCO remains to be one of the main partners in the non-formal education sub-sector supporting initiatives such as the Community Learning Centers, National Literacy Campaign 2015, and development of National LLL Policy, Non-Formal Educational Management Information System, revision of literacy curriculum and textbooks and institutional capacity strengthening of the NFE sub-sector. In the formal side, mobilizing resources from the Global Partnership for Education, MoEYS and UNESCO are implementing Strengthening Teacher Education Programmes in Cambodia (STEPCam) to significantly improve in early grade learning (literacy and mathematics), to lay strong foundations for lifelong learning.
In line with the this year’s national and International theme for Literacy, the MoEYS has been already implementing a two-pronged approach to literacy and lifelong learning; first providing basic literacy skills to the illiterates; and second advance literacy proficiency skills geared towards self-learning and development.
As part of the advancing the basic literacy, the MoEYS with support from UNESCO and in cooperation with Ministry of Women Affairs, SIPAR, Smart Telecom and other international partners have implemented specially developed literacy package for the illiterate adult workers in factories, majority of whom are women. This program has been implemented in 25 factories in nine provinces, viz. Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kg Speu, Kg Chhnang, Kg Cham, Tbong Khnom, Siem Reap, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng benefiting 1700 learners, 95% women. To support continuous learning, additional learning materials are provided on smartphones and other digital devices equipped in the Factory libraries through a literacy App.
Similarly, as part of advancing skills oriented lifelong learning, the MoEYS and MoLVT are implementing an ICT-based Basic Education Equivalency Programme (BEEP) in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. BEEP was developed with technical and financial support of UNESCO to provide continued learning opportunities for out-of-school youth and young adults, who despite their interest in education, could not continue due to various responsibilities. MoEYS and UNESCO appreciate the partnership and with the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC), World Education, Smart Axiata, and the UN Joint Programme on Youth Employment funded through the Swiss Development Cooperation.
As part of the celebration of International Literacy Day with national theme “Literacy Linked with Life Skills”, we would like to draw attention of all our partners about the Royal Government’s strategic goal to ensure that “each individual specializes at least in one skill in his/her life.” In accordance with this strategic vision, we call for accelerated investments in the lifelong learning efforts to enable all Cambodian citizens to “skill, re-skill and up-skill” for Cambodia to maintain its impressive economic growth and consolidate the peace and harmony in the country.