Problems with illiteracy spelled out on special day

Graphic for world illiteracy day 2000

The United Nations' cultural body, Unesco, is using World Illiteracy Day on Friday to highlight the problem, which affects even highly developed nations, such as Switzerland.

This content was published on September 8, 2000 - 09:24

Switzerland long ago conquered the problem of so-called primary illiteracy by making school attendance mandatory in the 19th century. Since 1970, fewer than 10,000 people or 0.14 per cent of the population, say they have never attended school.

Yet up to one fifth of the Swiss population is thought to be functionally illiterate. That means they are able to read, according to Pier-Angelo Neri of the Swiss national commission of Unesco, "but they are not in a position to understand what they have read".

In an effort to deal with the problem, the association "Read and Write" has been organising reading courses for adults in three national languages - German, French and Italian - for the past 20 years.

However, Neri says there are limits to what these courses can achieve, and that organisations which promote literacy need more support and better co-operation to become more effective.

Unesco is using the first world illiteracy day of the new millennium to encourage people to better understand and appreciate other cultures. It hopes to encourage people to reflect on their identities and their responsibilities as humans.

Rudolf Bärfuss, of the Swiss foreign ministry, says globalisation is increasing contact between cultures at an ever rising rate. As a result, he says, the promotion of cultural tolerance has become a new challenge for foreign policy.

swissinfo with agencies

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