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International Literacy Day: peace is the word

Saturday 8 September marks the worldwide celebration of International Literacy Day. In a ceremony hosted by UNESCO, this year’s theme will focus on the relationship between literacy and peace.

As UNESCO emphasises, lasting peace is founded on the respect for human rights and social justice.

Literacy, as the foundation of all learning and education, can be positioned as a fundamental human right, a means of empowerment and a driving force towards achieving social, cultural, economic and human development.

Vi, five (left) and Anh, three, read storybooks from the library in their new preschool in Vietnam. Photographer: Joanne Offer/Save the Children

Literacy as a prerequisite for peace


In this respect literacy can be specifically seen as a prerequisite for peace and a mechanism by which conflict may be prevented or resolved in several key ways.


For example, the acquisition of literacy can empower communities to access vital information allowing them to fully understand and realise their rights and the choices open to them.

Moreover, inclusive educational systems are able to specifically address the opportunity costs associated with armed conflict and violence.

Enabling democracy

Secondly, literacy enables participation in democratic processes. This allows individuals and communities to develop a political voice and take an active role in informing and influencing policy change at different levels.

Further, creating literate environments enables individuals and communities to build mutual respect between one another and fosters dialogue between different groups.

This encourages the promotion of diverse cultural identities and more broadly promotes social capital, fostering trust and cooperation across societal divisions.

Programmatic successes

Each year UNESCO awards International Literacy Prizes. One of this year’s winners is Transformemos Educando, a Colombian educational organisation, which aims to educate youth for peace.

In violent regions of the country, out-of-school youth are recruited into terrorist activities and drug trafficking. This programme builds community development structures by offering basic and livelihood education alongside income-generating activities for affected youth, increasing their confidence and positive reintegration into the community.

The topic of literacy and peacebuilding can be seen in various other contexts, as reflected in Wendi Dwyer’s recent blog, Literacy Will Tap Into South Sudan’s Greatest Resource.

In South Sudan, Lost Boys Rebuilding Southern Sudan (LBRSS) have developed a ‘Literacy at the Well’ programme, which empowers young women, as the “young nation’s best hope for positive change” with literacy skills.

Breaking the Cycle of Crisis

Delivering education in conflict-affected fragile states (CAFS) is at the centre of our education strategy. Our new report Breaking the Cycle of Crisis, evaluates the successes and learning from different settings in four CAFS: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Nepal and Angola.

In Nepal, for example, Save the Children worked to tackle the misuse of school buildings, which were being used as bases for the troops of armed political groups. Save the Children along with other agencies and the local community worked to ensure that schools were declared as ‘Zones of Peace’.

Literacy – as the fundamental mechanism by which education is realised and a tool for peace, democracy and sustainable development – must be prioritised by donors, governments and the global community at large in order to ensure that effective policy and programmes are supported and implemented.

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