We know that literacy is the basis for lifelong learning that contributes to poverty reduction, democratization, and sustainable development. Literacy is critical for improving quality of life by allowing literate citizens to seek alternative solutions for enhancing health and nutrition, empowering citizens to proactively participate in community development, and inspiring citizens to value gender equality for the attainment of overall family happiness.
“Literacy not only changes lives, it saves them,” said Unesco director-general Irina Bokova, aptly summing up the importance of literacy. This year, International Literacy Day is devoted to the connection between “Literacy and Sustainable Development.”
The international trends in trade show that foreign investors pay particular attention to a country’s literacy rate prior to making investment decisions. Therefore, a country with a higher literacy rate is likely to attract more foreign direct investment, which accelerates the rapid economic growth with employment opportunities for its citizens. According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics, among the Asean countries, literacy rate among those aged 15 years and above in Cambodia is higher than Laos (72.2 percent), yet lower than other countries such as Burma (91.9 percent), Vietnam (93.9) and Thailand (96.4 percent). This indicates the need for Cambodia to accelerate its efforts and allocate adequate resources to literacy to enhance its competitiveness, particularly in light of upcoming Asean economic integration.
The Royal Government of Cambodia and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport recognize the vital role of literacy and lifelong learning in attaining national development goals. The National Strategic Development Plan 2014-2018 identifies literacy and lifelong learning as key policy priorities. The Education Strategic Plan 2014-2018 has identified nonformal education, which includes literacy, as a subsector within the Cambodia’s education sector. The ministry is working with the national and international development partners, mainly with Unesco, to strengthen education policy and capacity development, specifically in the nonformal education subsector, and expand innovative programs for youths and adults through the Capacity Development for Education for All program.
To accelerate the literacy efforts, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport is implementing the Country Literacy Acceleration Plan with Unesco’s support. This action plan is a roadmap for escalating the literacy rate of Cambodia as it determines realistic literacy priorities, targets and strategies, at the national and provincial levels. As part of this plan, geographical mapping of the literacy situation at the district and commune level is also available.
One important mechanism that has been initiated and implemented by the ministry is the establishment of 348 Community Learning Centers across the country. The centers are essential mechanisms to deliver multiple programs such as literacy classes, vocational skills acquisition and income generation initiatives to the community members, particularly in the rural areas. Better managed and operational Community Learning Centers will enable the ministry to better target the disadvantaged populations and support the government’s goals to become an upper- to middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income country by 2050.
As an active member of the international community, Cambodia has made consistent efforts to achieve the internationally committed development goals, particularly the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All goals. The recently concluded Education for All review indicates that the Education for All Goal 4 on adult literacy is at risk of being missed.
According to the Ministry of Planning, Cambodia’s adult literacy rate for the population 15 years and above stands at 79.7 percent in 2013, and the Unesco Institute for Statistics states that the rate will have to reach 84.4 percent in 2015 to achieve the literacy goal. To ensure that Cambodia achieves this literacy goal, at least 3,685 literacy classes need to be operationalized in 2015. The reports by the Ministry of Planning indicate that while literacy rates grew by 10 percent between 1998 and 2008 for those aged 15 and over, it slowed down to only 2 percent between 2008 and 2013, leaving approximately 2.1 million adult Cambodians who still cannot read and write.
While celebrating the 2014 International Literacy Day, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and Unesco call for a significant increase in allocation of both financial and human resources from the government, development partners and civil society during the next 480 days to accelerate literacy efforts in Cambodia.
Hang Chuon Naron is the minister of education, youth and sport. Anne Lemaistre is the country representative for Unesco in Cambodia.