Universal Literacy as a Catalyst for Achieving All MDG Goals Part 2 of 2: Barriers to literacy and educational strategies to accelerate progress.

Submitted by Linda Martin

Social and economic factors that restrict or deny access to education include gender bias, lack of schools, lack of trained teachers, demands on children’s time to work, drop-out rates, and fee based education which families cannot afford. Geography also plays a role. Per the Millennium Development Progress Report 2010 “household data from 42 countries also show that rural children are twice as likely to be out of school as children living in urban areas”. What can be done?  

  • Abolish primary and secondary school fees. When primary school fees were eliminated in Burundi, enrollment increased threefold (since 1999) and reached 99 per cent in 2008.
  • Promote linkages across sectors. Couple functional literacy programs to skills development and income generation. In Malawi, the Ministry of Women and Child Development implemented the Sustainable Social and Economic Empowerment Programme for Poverty Reduction (SSEEP) to tackle the problems of illiteracy, environmental degradation and poverty reduction. The approach combined the participatory REFLECT (Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques) methodology with functional literacy and the development of livelihood activities. In this methodology, participants are central to the implementation of the program, and locally-available materials and resources are adapted, mostly by the participants themselves, as aids in the learning process. 
  • Incorporate literacy and education as a keystone in poverty reduction frameworks and as needed, in education reform. Mauritania’s National Strategy for the Eradication of Illiteracy (2006-2015) “reinforces the importance of literacy as a full-fledged component of the revised Poverty Reduction Strategy Framework and as an essential ingredient of sustainable development”. In Sierra Leone, NGOs collaborated to combine literacy provision with conflict resolution and peace-building.  


  • Focus efforts on the least developed countries. Per the February, 2010 General Assembly report, this would include landlocked developing countries, nations vulnerable to natural disasters, and areas of conflict or post conflict.

Other suggestions include new school construction, teacher training, insuring schools are safe, and developing incentives for youth to stay in school through secondary level.

Washington State Organizations Making a Difference

A few of the many organizations in Washington state that support global literacy and education as a means of poverty alleviation include: All As One, which offers orphaned children in Sierra Leone a loving home, health care and education, Ayni Education International, which has built 18 new schools in Afghanistan and equipped 20 others, serving about 25,000 Afghan students; and Bahia Street, which ”breaks cycles of poverty and violence through quality education for impoverished girls and young women living in Salvador, Brazil”. For information on other Global Washington members, please refer to our directory of organizations.

Related Links

Education and the Millennium Development Goals

Progress for Children – Achieving the MDGs with Equity

Millennium Development Progress Report 2010

The Global Literacy Challenge

MDG Info 2010

MDG Data Wizard

United Nations Girls Education Initiative

UNICEF-Basic education and gender equality resources

UNESCO- The Global Literacy Challenge

UNESCO – Education

The State of the World’s Children 2009

Global Literacy Program, Inc.

Safe Schools – Amnesty International

Center for Global Development

International Reading Association Program

National Institute for Literacy