New campaign to eradicate illiteracy launched in Switzerland

New efforts are underway to encourage people with reading and writing difficulties to come to grips with their problems. In canton Berne, the education authorities have launched a campaign to increase public awareness of illiteracy.

This content was published on September 2, 2000

In canton Berne alone, an estimated 100,000 people are considered functionally illiterate: that is they have trouble writing or reading a simple text. Nationwide, up to 19 per cent of the adult population is affected.

The figure compares to an adult illiteracy rate of about 20 per cent in western countries, according to a recent survey.

The campaign in canton Berne is the first of its kind. It comes ahead of an international day to combat illiteracy on September 8.

Margrit Dünz of the education department says the federal authorities are preparing a joint effort with other cantons across the country next year.

Pressure groups in 1999 launched an appeal for the right to a better level of basic education. In a petition, they called on the Swiss authorities to ensure that adults are given opportunities to learn to read and write.

Eliane Niesper, a member of a non-governmental pressure group, told swissinfo the number of illiterate people has not increased in the past few years. But, she says, they are finding it increasingly difficult to cope "with the growing demands by the labour market".

Niesper also says people with reading and writing problems often face social problems and feel excluded from society.

She adds that it is impossible to pin down the reasons for illiteracy. "We have been working on it for some time. It would be unfair to blame schools. Many other factors play an important part."

Special courses have been organised over the past few years for people with reading disabilities, mainly in urban areas. Some are funded by private organisations and supported by the cantons.

by Urs Geiser

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