‘Out of Sight’: UN and Illiteracy

The UN and Illiteracy

Numbers in evaluating a global concern has always played a crucial role. Victims in millions and billions have been calculated. But, what when these numbers are still incomplete and do not include all making them victims of rather worse concern of not being noticed, of being- OUT OF SIGHT.

News reports on global problems like devastation and conflict on disputed regions on an epic scale, bring out the suffering of victims n such huge numbers that with time they somewhere lose its meaning. And maybe they actually do go astray.

UNESCO makes the point that global figures on access to education could be out by a factor of 350 million. This can be an alarming concern because it is equal to the combined populations of bigger core countries like UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain put together.

The Concealed Victims

These “invisible” people, or rather concealed from sight face this condition because of them being “the poorest of the poorest”. These are families growing up in places where censuses and administrators do not reach.

These are millions of unregistered lives in sprawling slums around some cities in the semi-periphery world and third world countries, or in families living illegally and undocumented as migrants. The conventional means of gathering information – such as censuses and records of birth and death – are only likely to be accurate and exact for populations that are settled and visible. The shifting, homeless and migrating populations have a tendency to be missed and slipped away from the consensus and data gatherings.

Also, the unwanted refugees driven over borders by political violence can be left uncounted and unrecognized by reluctant hosts.

The UN agency estimates a number of 100 million that are likely to be outside the reach of official statistics, including those living as illegal immigrants in wealthier countries.

The Communiqué

Even though this year’s education reports focuses on accountability, UNESCO calls out the government for its inefficiency, even after when they know how many of them are required to be supported. The goals of eradicating illiteracy can be achieved only after realizing that some of the most disadvantaged are not even part of the target.

UNESCO says that it raises the question of who is responsible for people who don’t even appear in national figures. Such discrepancies and shortcomings are clearly visible in the UN agency’s own range of figures. The children denied accesses to schools are largely from the communities which are invisible to the geographic radars of the UNESCO itself.

When talking about the inequalities in access and public spending on education, UNESCO says these “invisible” millions are not included. The UN agency aims at its goal of NO ONE SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND and is working continuously to fulfill this objective but also fail to realize that there are millions who are not even counted in these numbers. As such, “no one is ultimately held to account for protecting their rights”.

This year’s newly-released figures show 264 million young people without access to primary or secondary school.

Commitments to Ensure a Better Condition

Several commitments and initiatives were taken by authorities to ensure a better living condition and accesses to the right denied. The international group of former education ministers, the Atlantis Group, including former UK education secretary Nicky Morgan and US education secretary Arne Duncan, has called for a greater commitment to aid for education and initiated steps for the same.


In the earlier reports also nil progress of the schools and educational areas were seen. Last month, another UN agency, reported there had been “nearly zero progress” in the past decade on improving access to school in the poorest countries. Thus, denying them of their respective rights of living a standard life.

As observed, there was also a lack of quality in schools calling it the “staggering” problem as reported by the UNESCO’S Institute for Statistics in earlier documents. There are approximately more than 600 million young people who have been to school but are lacking basic skills in literacy and numeracy.

Counting in education and making education count remains a challenge. And for a better world both of these factors hold equal weightage. Therefore, to eradicate illiteracy it is very important firstly to eradicate the condition of being OUT OF SIGHT!

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About the Author

Piyush values education and has studied from the top institutes of IIT Roorkee, IIM Bangalore, KTH Sweden and Tsinghua University in China. Post completing his MBA, he has worked with the world’s # 1 consulting firm, The Boston Consulting Group and focused on building sales and marketing verticals for top MNCs and Indian business houses.

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