There can be no lasting peace or social development without education. This is the bedrock on which UNESCO has built its priority programme to provide education for all throughout life. In this context, the Organisation's twin focus is to train the teachers who are central to the education system and to improve education's quality and relevance which will go a long way to reduce drop outs and ensure retention.

UNESCO has consistently supported the need for researching and promoting literacy projects, programmes and campaigns with a developmental aim, in the context of its commitment to life long education. The commitment of UNESCO to adult learning and the leading role it has played in the promotion of adult education has been in clear evidence over the last five decades. The Fifth International Conference on Adult Education held in Hamburg, Germany in July, 1997 marked a turning point for adult learning and for the role expected to be played by UNESCO and its member-countries in this fast growing field. It demonstrated the extent to which adult education has become the key to the future. The new concept of adult education presents a challenge to existing practices because it calls for effective networking within the formal and non-formal systems, and for innovation, creativity and flexibility. Adult literacy, broadly conceived as the basic knowledge and skills needed by all in a rapid changing world, is a fundamental right. Literacy is also a catalyst for participation in social, cultural, political and economic activities, and for learning throughout life.

UNESCO, International Literacy Institute (University of Pennsylvania, USA) and the National Literacy Mission of India organised a major literacy meeting, the Second Asia Regional Literacy Forum in February 1998 in New Delhi to consider innovations and professionalization in adult literacy. The forum reviewed literacy problems within the complex diversity of Asia's pluralistic society, rejected the "one size fits all approach" for literacy eradication, and addressed the new demands on literacy skills. Literacy and linguistics, ethnic and cultural diversity in Asia and technology and technological innovations were among the many issues discussed.

Over the years, UNESCO has been collaborating with the National Literacy Mission for the celebration of International Literacy Day and in sponsoring publications on education and literacy. 

  1. A Literate person is a one who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement relevant to his everyday life. 

  2. Literacy is not the simple reading of word or a set of associated symbols and sounds , but an act of critical understanding of men's situation in the world. 

  3. Literacy is not an end in itself but a means of personal liberation and development and extending individuals educational efforts involving overall inter-disciplinary responses to concrete problems 

  4. A literate person is one who has acquired all the essential knowledge and skills which enable him to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community and whose attaining in reading, writing and numeracy make it possible to use these skills towards his own and his community's development. 

The National Literacy Mission defines literacy as acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one's day-to-day life. Thus the goal of the National Literacy Mission goes beyond the simple achievement of self-reliance in literacy and numeracy of functional literacy. The achievement of functional literacy implies:

  • Self-reliance in 3 R's

  • Becoming aware of the causes of deprivation and moving towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development

  • Acquiring skills to improve their economics status and general well-being

  • Imbibing values of national integration, conservation of environment, women's equality, observance of small family norms, etc.

The acquisition of functional literacy results in empowerment and a definite improvement in the quality of life. It helps to ensure the participation of the masses in sharing the benefits of the information era.