DOHA: Education Minister Yousry El Gamal hopes to bring illiteracy levels in Egypt down from 29 percent to the “single digits within four years, he told The Daily Star Egypt during the three-day literacy conference in Qatar which ended yesterday.
El Gamal will implement a new program to be decreed this year which obliges university students to teach one illiterate person each year they spend at university.
He says there are 1.5 million students “we have not made use of yet in the university system.
The program, says El Gamal, will target eight million illiterate Egyptians, less than half of the total number of illiterate persons, according to Unesco figures which puts the number at a staggering 17 million.
“It is a powerful drive against illiteracy, he said.
Focusing on adult illiteracy, El Gamal said that Egypt’s biggest concern is with those aged 25-40, women, and Upper Egyptian villagers, where “innovative solutions are necessary.
Unesco Assistant Secretary General Peter Smith emphasized the importance of and general neglect of educating adults.
“If adults read, their children are far more likely to read, he said.
Rather than blaming a failure on the part of the government to provide proper education services, El Gamal emphasized the lack of interest of illiterates in literacy programs and high drop-out rates.
“We need to give more incentives and create more untraditional incentives to persuade illiterate individuals to pursue and continue literacy programs, he said.
He gave the example of an untraditional approach the government attempted with success by teaching something of economical value to the women, such as handicrafts and through it introducing literacy.
El Gamal says it will also be important to empower civil society to supplement the ministry’s efforts.
Highlighting the importance of literacy even for rural workers, Abdel Moneim Osman, director of Unesco’s Regional Bureau for Education told The Daily Star Egypt that modernity is making it crucial even for villagers to be literate to have better access to economic opportunities.
He explained how a nomad or farmer who is literate can take better care of an ill animal, be aware of government regulations, and have greater access to information and government procedures and activities.
“Farmers are entering into an economic situation where information is very important to planning production.
He added that it is also important that all people participate in public life “to have a say in what is going on, which will not happen if they can’t read.
Unesco Director Mark Richmond added that literacy is an “enabling right, which allows other rights to be realized, such as the right to employment, decent health, and political participation.
Unesco hopes to attain a 50 percent improvement in adult literacy levels by 2015 under its Education for All goals.
Unesco is hosting the conference jointly with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development. The Foundation is a private, non-profit organization established in 1995 and chaired by First Lady Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned.
Highest Literacy Rates in Mena 2006 (ages 15 and up)
1. Kuwait 93%
2. Palestinian territories 92%
3. Jordan 90%
4. Qatar 89%
5. Bahrain 87%
Lowest Literacy Rates in Mena 2006 (ages 15 and up)
1. Mauritania 51%
2. Morocco 52%
3. Yemen 53%
4. Sudan 61%
5. Algeria 70%
*data not available for Djibouti, Lebanon, Libya, and the UAE*statistics provided by Unesco