UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- UN officials have stressed the importance of literacy in accelerating peace and development, calling for greater efforts to enable children, youth and adults to read, write and transform their lives.
The officials, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have made statements or delivered messages to mark the International Literacy Day, which is observed on Sept. 8 annually. This year's International Literacy Day has a special focus on the fundamental relationship between literacy and peace.
In a message to mark the International Literacy Day, the UN secretary-general said that great strides have been made during the United Nations Literacy Decade that closes this year as some 90 million young men and women have become literate.
Launched in 2003, the United Nations Literacy Decade is a UN initiative that provides both a platform and an impetus for increasing literacy levels and developing literate environments worldwide.
However, an estimated 775 million young people and adults around the world still cannot read or write, while 122 million children of primary and lower secondary school age remain out of school, and millions more still graduate with inadequate literacy skills, according to the message.
"The persistence of such numbers hobbles our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to build the inclusive knowledge societies we need for the twenty-first century," said Ban.
"We must move faster to reach the most marginalized and uphold this basic human right," he said. "That is why, later this month, I will be launching a new Education First initiative."
The three priorities of the initiative will be putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning and fostering global citizenship.
"I call on world leaders and all involved with education to join this initiative. The cost of leaving millions of children and young people on the margins of society is far greater than the funds required to reach the international goals for education," he said.
Ban's remarks have been echoed by the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, who said, in her message given ahead of the International Literacy Day, that literacy transforms the lives of people, allowing them to make informed choices and empowering individuals to become agents of change.
"We must not allow conflict to deprive children and adults of the crucial opportunity of literacy. Literacy is a fundamental human right, and the foundation of all education and lifelong learning," said Bokova, "Lasting peace depends on the development of literate citizenship and access to education for all. Amidst political upheaval and escalating violence in many parts of the world, literacy must be a priority in the peace-building agenda of all nations."
Peace and sustainable development are interdependent, and it is crucial for the two to develop and strengthen simultaneously, she said.
"Literacy is also a development accelerator, enabling societies to grow more inclusively and sustainably," she said. "Literacy programs can become a key component of future development strategies, opening new opportunities and skills for all."
This year marks the end of the UN Literacy Decade, aimed to galvanize government action worldwide against illiteracy. Over the decade, and despite considerable effort and some major achievements, 775 million people are still considered non-literate, of whom 85 percent live in 41 countries, according to UN estimates.
As part of the celebrations for the Day, UNESCO has brought together representatives from these 41 countries to examine the lessons learned over the decade and identify ways of accelerating progress to meet the Education for All (EFA) goals established by the world's governments in 2000 for a 50 percent improvement in literacy levels worldwide by 2015.