[ Problem Addressed | ESCAP's Role | Beneficiaries | Achievements | Follow-up Action ]
The Asia-Pacific region is home to three-quarters of the world's illiterate population.
Illiteracy in the region is both a cause and consequence of poverty, deprivation, and
under-development. It is commonly accepted that the gains of development cannot reach the
general population until basic education and literacy are provided to all.
Literacy is not merely about basic skills of reading and writing; it is about providing
individuals with the capabilities for understanding their lives and social environment as
well as equipping them with problem-solving skills. Literacy, therefore, is a foundation
of human resources development and is critical to alleviating poverty and to enhancing the
general quality of life of the people.
The education of women is particularly valuable as a strategic investment in human
resources, as the social returns are high. The education of women and girls has a
tremendous impact not only on their own development, but also on that of their families
and communities. It acts as a catalyst in virtually every dimension of development and
poverty alleviation, with outcomes such as reduced fertility, reduced infant mortality,
improved child survival, better family health, increased educational attainment, higher
productivity, and general improvement in the nation's economic situation.
As the regional arm of the United Nations for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP attaches
great importance to helping bring about the eradication of illiteracy through its
technical assistance programmes. The Jakarta Plan of Action on Human Resources Development
(HRD) in the ESCAP region calls for governmental action to provide literacy skills
particularly to women, as an important means of enhancing the quality of life of the
people in the ESCAP region. HRD programmes at ESCAP are directly concerned with upgrading
human capabilities, mainly through education and training, to enable individuals to
develop to their maximum potential.
Since 1992, as part of its HRD programme, ESCAP has engaged in a series of activities
and projects to address the problem of low levels of literacy among girls and women in
Asia and the Pacific, through the incorporation of gender awareness in functional literacy
and post-literacy programmes. ESCAP has also stressed development of the technical and
managerial capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)running such programmes.
The first of a series of ESCAP HRD projects, entitled "Strengthening the Role of
Youth Organizations in the Promotion of Functional Literacy with Special Focus on the
South Asian Subregion" was implemented with the support of the Government of Japan.
Night classes for women, Nepal
There are two categories of project beneficiaries: local NGOs working in literacy and
post-literacy programmes, and literacy learners. Literacy learners are out-of-school girls
and women whose ages range from 15 to 45 years.
Beginning at the initial design stage of each literacy project, ESCAP
has collaborated closely with the UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and the
Pacific (UNESCO/PROAP) and national counterpart organizations (NCOs), including both
governmental agencies and NGOs. ESCAP's role is to reach the learners and teachers at the
grassroots through its partnership with NCOs.
Learning opportunities for mothers, Nepal
The project supported by the Government of Japan developed a programme curriculum
focused on "functional literacy" skills, which went beyond "basic
literacy". The emphasis was on imparting usable knowledge in family as well as
working life, as opposed to mere "book knowledge". Hence, the ultimate aim of
the functional literacy curriculum was to empower the learners (women and girls) and
enhance their quality of life.
Getting the participating NGOs to communicate with each other and exchange ideas
through networking was seen as invaluable and received special attention. Likewise,
strengthening collaboration between governments and NGOs for the effective delivery of
literacy programmes received special attention. The networking approach has enabled the
diffusion and transfer of knowledge and skills from the subregional to the national and to
the local levels. Thus, NCOs and NGOs benefited from the creation of training activities
and materials, which at the same time enhanced their process of capacity building. More
than 25 NGOs and government agencies in the South Asian region carried out literacy
training for girls and women; more than 350 of their instructors and some 8,000 learners
benefited from the literacy training courses.
Since the start of the project in 1992, ESCAP's technical assistance has expanded to
cover both functional literacy and post-literacy programmes. Activities which initially
aimed at countries in the South Asian region have now also taken root in Indo-China and
the Pacific with support from other bilateral donors. The project for Indo-China is
intended to strengthen the ability for planning, management, monitoring and evaluation
among grassroots organizations striving to reverse high rates of female illiteracy. In the
Pacific, ESCAP works with member organizations of an NGO alliance called
"Meltrust". There, the objective is to enhance the skills of local organizations
in producing teaching materials, and in gaining a wider application of their teaching
Future activities of ESCAP in this field will depend upon the emerging needs of its
counterpart organizations and of local communities. Consultations up to now suggest that
ESCAP follow-up actions will likely include:
- Strengthening Government-NGO collaboration;
- Expanding the existing NGO network to a regional level, particularly focusing on young
women and girls;
- Increasing the involvement of community-based organizations; and
- Promoting greater coordination between ESCAP, UNESCO/PROAP and the Asian Cultural Center
for UNESCO (ACCU), beginning at the project-design stage.
ESCAP will remain committed to promoting girls' and women's empowerment through the
training and capacity-building of NGOs in Asia and the Pacific. Providing innovative and
timely inputs into non-formal education and literacy programmes will remain an important
part of ESCAP's commitment.
To learn more of adult literacy programmes and other HRD activities of ESCAP, please
visit the HRD homepage at: http://www.escap-hrd.org