Participating in campaigns for the improvement of literacy levels and supporting governmental and other efforts in this field.
The goal of universal mastery of the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic has by no means been fully attained. On the threshold of the twenty-fist century, the situation is somewhat disturbing. In many cases, the rapid growth of primary school enrolment has slowed down or even declined, while the quality, relevance and effectiveness of primary education are being increasingly criticized. At the same time, large sections of the school-age population have inadequate access to the network of primary schools currently in existence one the one hand, and on the other, the number of illiterates in the world continues to rise, in spite of the adult literacy drives organized by many countries.
As a child of illiterate parents, Kader Asmal, Minister of Education of South Africa, argues that the literacy success stories of his continent were due not to the North, but to the "resilience and triumph of people with nothing." African nations were left almost nothing at independence – the 4.5 million people of Zambia, for example, had just three high schools when the British departed. With up to a billion illiterate people around the world, including 30% of South Africans, the time has come to "join in the mobilization of the word". Asmal maintained it is vital to entrench basic education in the mother tongue, tapping into folk memories and building family cohesion. Technology is an adjunct and must not be allowed to take over.
UNESCO's mobilizing project to combat illiteracy sets out to stem illiteracy at its source by seeking to introduce universal primary schooling, democratize it and improve its quality. This includes an emphasis on expanding schooling for girls in rural areas and for the least-privileged population groups, as well as the promotion of adult education in a context of lifelong education. UNESCO's programme includes: reviews of literacy related issues; setting up of national projects; training of project coordinators; community benchmark surveys; field demonstration projects.
Literacy rates have risen by 30% or more in at least ten nations over the last two decades, most notably in Saudi Arabia. According to national censuses, the ten countries with the largest percentage rise in literacy rates from 1970 to 1990 are: Saudi Arabia (53%); Kenya (38%); Yemen (34%); Algeria (33%); Botswana (33%); Haiti (32%); Angola (31%); Madagascar (31%); Ghana (30%); Jordan (30%). Ten developing countries have lifted percentage literacy levels to 90% or more: Jamaica (98%); Republic of Korea (96%); Uruguay (96%); Argentina (95%); Cuba (94%); Philippines (94%); Chile (93%); Costa Rica (93%); Thailand (93%); Paraguay (90%). Several of the world's poorest nations (per capita GNP below US$1,000) have achieved literacy rates of 75% or more, whilst in other countries with several times the wealth, literacy still languishes below 70%. Examples of the former include inter alia: the Philippines (94% literacy); Viet Nam (88% literacy); Sri Lanka (88% literacy); Peru (85% literacy); Indonesia (82% literacy; China (78% literacy). However, lenient definitions of literacy in part count towards some countries' literacy figures.
Written language is a basic symbol system which equips a person to deal with the contemporary world.
Electronic means, from the pocket calculator to portable radios and home computers, have so outmoded written language skills that basic education is most usefully focused on these futuristic skills. Elsewhere, increasing literacy levels will only raise expectations which society cannot fulfil.