Reading & Literacy

President, First Lady Back Global Literacy to Fight ‘Hopelessness’

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 26, 2006 2 min read

President Bush said last week that ensuring that people can read and write is one way to combat poverty and “radicalism” in the world.

“One reason radicals are able to recruit young men, for example, to become suicide bombers, is because of hopelessness,” the president said here at a White House-sponsored conference on global literacy. “One way to defeat hopelessness is through literacy—is to giving people the fantastic hope that comes by being able to read and realize dreams.”

Mr. Bush was a surprise participant at the Sept. 18 conference hosted by first lady Laura Bush, which featured efforts to combat illiteracy around the world. At the conference, Mrs. Bush announced a $1 million donation by the U.S. government to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, for a program to assess literacy in developing countries.

Mrs. Bush highlighted the fact that two-thirds of the 771 million adults in the world who cannot read are women, and that 85 percent of illiterate people live in only 35 countries.

“By investing in literacy instruction for women and girls now, governments ensure that future generations will enjoy the benefits of reading,” she told 250 conference attendees gathered at the New York City Public Library. “Women who can read are much more likely to be advocates for their children’s education.”

The conference was attended by 30 first ladies of foreign countries and 39 foreign ministers of education, as well as by university presidents, corporate executives, and officials of international-development agencies. Mrs. Bush hosted the conference in partnership with the Department of State, the Department of Education, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and UNESCO. Invitations were extended particularly to countries with high rates of illiteracy or very large populations.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings participated in the conference.

Afghan Experience

President Bush, who was in New York City along with other world leaders for last week’s opening of the United Nations General Assembly, cited the U.S.-backed Women’s Teacher Training Institute in Kabul, Afghanistan, as “one of the most, I guess, heartwarming literacy initiatives I have witnessed as president.”

The institute was established after the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The extremist-Muslim government had barred girls from attending school.

“This young democracy will survive,” Mr. Bush said of Afghanistan. “And one of the reasons it will survive is because of the committed efforts by a lot of folks, not just the United States, but by people around the world to help the brave educational entrepreneurs that recognize hope and peace come about because of education.”

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A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 2006 edition of Education Week as President, First Lady Back Global Literacy To Fight ‘Hopelessness’

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