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Sonia kicks off meet on global literacy


New Delhi : India is committed to universalising primary education by 2010, said Congress president and the ruling UPA coalition chief Sonia Gandhi here Thursday while inaugurating a two-day meet on global literacy.

Gandhi also underlined the need for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 at the Global Literacy Conference, organised jointly by Unesco and the Indian human resource development ministry.

The conference is a follow-up to the White House conference on global literacy held in September 2006.

A video message from Laura Bush, First lady of the US and honorary ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade, was also shown to the audience. The First Lady of Sri Lanka, Shiranthi Rajapakse, was the guest of honour.

Recalling the vision of her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi stressed that the National Literacy Mission had led to an increase in literacy from 52 to 65 percent during 1991-2001.

Reiterating India’s commitment to universalise elementary education by 2010, Gandhi outlined key challenges to achieve this target, including full enrolment, reduction in the dropout rate and imparting quality education.

“A cooked mid day meal programme is an integral part of this strategy. Today, some 120 million children are being fed daily in schools,” she said.

Referring to the three most populated countries in the continent, she said India, Bangladesh and Pakistan should redouble their efforts to eradicate illiteracy.

“This will include greater focus on information and communication technologies and linking education with job opportunities (vocational education),” Gandhi stressed.

“We are at a moment of convergence between technological development and educational need, as well as between educational need and political will. Lt us grasp this moment,” she said.

“The challenge of literacy is not just of finding the means. It is one of commitment and perseverance. Literacy has to be brought to the centre stage not just in our respective countries but also amongst the comity of nations,” said Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh.

The minister aid that community mobilisation, societal awareness, national commitment and international understanding are needed to achieve full literacy.

“Our goal is that every child at primary level is enrolled and retained in school. Taken along with our efforts under the National Literacy Mission, we hope to achieve 85 percent literacy by the end of this plan period,” he said.

The Unesco’s director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, lauded India’s progress in the direction of achieving millennium development goals. Matsuura, however, highlighted the problems of gender disparity in south, south-west and Central Asia.

“Girls account for 66 percent of out-of-school children in the sub-region, the highest share worldwide. This threatens to perpetuate inequalities in access to learning opportunities throughout life,” Matsuura said.

The conference is the fourth in the series of six regional conferences – covering the Arab states, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean – being organised to promote literacy.

An exhibition on the theme of creating a literate environment has also been put up at Vigyan Bhawan. It will focus on how information and communication technologies can be utilized in increasing access, localizing content and creating an environment conducive to literacy.