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European Commission


Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Literacy for All

Closing Speech at Conference to launch report of the EU High Level Group on Literacy

6 September 2012, Filoxenia Conference Centre, Nicosia

Dear Minister Demosthenous,

Dear Princess Laurentien,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted and honoured to be with you today for the closing of this special conference on 'literacy for all'.

I would like to thank the Cyprus Presidency for the excellent job they have done in organising the event. I would also like to give special thanks to Princess Laurentien and the members of the High Level Group of Experts on literacy for presenting the final results of their work to us here.

Indeed, we are very grateful when so many experts on literacy come together to address this very crucial issue for our societies.

These past two days you have been reviewing the final report of the High Level Group – the culmination of eighteen months of hard work.

I am very pleased that you have had this first opportunity to discuss it, before I present it to the press together with Princess Laurentien and Minister Demosthenous.

Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank the Chair and members of the High Level Group for all they have accomplished since I launched the Group early last year. I believe they deserve our applause.

I am also pleased that you have had an opportunity to share, with the High Level Group, good practices and ideas on how to improve literacy levels in Europe. In Europe we have some of the best practice in the world. It must now be put to the best use for the benefit of all.

And I appreciate all the valuable input you have given, and in particular your proposals for concrete follow-up actions.

I cannot stress enough the importance of all the contributions. Literacy is the gateway to all other learning. Without it, all other learning is impossible. But it is also the key to a successful and rewarding economic and social life. And it will become an even more critical skill in the future.

So a meeting of minds like these past two days is an essential first step if we are to ensure a high level of literacy in Europe in the twenty first century.

But let there be no doubt. We all know that we are facing a tremendous challenge.

Life has become more complex, and very few people can get by with only basic skills.

Today, we live in an information age where almost all jobs demand much higher reading and writing abilities compared to a few years ago, when manual skills and a basic reading ability were usually enough.

Our chances for a successful professional life depend crucially on how well we fare in an economy that prizes knowledge, and the capacity to acquire it quickly, over any other quality. So we can never stress enough the importance of literacy.

And the final report of the High Level Group underscores this when it concludes that Europe needs to be more ambitious. Our vision should be one of a Europe where everyone is literate. Our economic future and general wellbeing depend on it.

The report also clearly states that we all have to work together if we are to bring about this fundamental change in the lives of the 75 million adults in Europe with low literacy skills. Schools alone cannot do this.

It is as much about changing public awareness and attitudes, as it is about adapting the content of teaching and learning.

This means that a collective effort is essential and that we need to cooperate better within, and also between our different countries.

The report gives some very useful recommendations per age group and pinpoints several areas on which we need to focus more at European and national level. These include family literacy and parental support; early intervention and specialist reading support; motivation of adolescents; and breaking the taboo of adult literacy problems.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, in order to follow-up on the report's findings, there are a number of key actions that I will be leading in the months ahead.

I will be doing this in the spirit of the report, which rightly notes that this is just the beginning, not the end. And that we need to raise greater awareness among all relevant players, politicians and policy-makers in particular, and impel them to act.

In the immediate future, the final report of the High Level Group and the outcomes of this conference will feed into the discussions of the informal meeting of EU Education Ministers next month.

What Ministers say at that meeting will be the basis for formal Council Conclusions on Literacy. These Conclusions – to be adopted by the Education Council in November - will set out agreed priorities for Member States and the Commission to tackle the illiteracy problem more effectively.

I will also consult the Lifelong Learning Programme Committee on a proposal to make funds available for the establishment of a European network of Literacy organisations. Such a network can help maintain the momentum to improve literacy levels in Europe, and share knowledge and raise awareness among Member States. I am confident that this idea will find favour with the Member States, and that we will have a network up and running next year.

But looking beyond next year, I would also like to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new Erasmus for All programme that the Commission has proposed for the next funding period 2014-2020.

This integrated programme for education, training, youth and sport is the ideal vehicle to support the cross-cutting and imaginative approaches presented in the High Level Group Report.

The Commission has proposed a budget for Erasmus for All that is around 70% greater than the current Lifelong Learning and Youth Programmes combined.

So, together with the ambition, the Erasmus for All programme has the potential to break the cycle of literacy deficits in the EU.

By insisting on the "for ALL" in our programme name, we want to stress the wide reach and inclusiveness of our proposal. The idea is to invest in innovation and to improve the quality, reach and impact of education across the EU. By incorporating youth policy in our proposal, we want to bring together formal learning with informal and community-based action.

However, as the report stresses, actions at political level are not enough. We also need to raise awareness and communicate what we are doing.

So in order to disseminate the report, and gather and spread knowledge about literacy, I am very proud to launch today a dedicated area on the Commission's Europa website.

[short pause]

These webpages are a one-stop-shop for the High Level Group report as well as for EU and national actions, projects, programmes and foundations dealing with literacy issues in the Member States.

I urge you all to visit this website and to use it. Also, do not hesitate to spread the word among your colleagues and networks about it.

It will be updated regularly so that you can stay informed of the latest developments on literacy in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since I took over as Commissioner, for Education I have launched several actions to address the issue of literacy. In addition to establishing the High Level Group of Experts on Literacy, I have promoted the funding of reading and literacy projects through our Lifelong Learning and Culture Programmes.

I have also launched a literacy campaign called 'Europe loves reading' that I have personally taken part in. Through a series of reading events in schools across Europe, in some cases together with Princess Laurentein and some members of the High Level Group, I have been raising awareness among children of the importance of literacy.

But there is a dimension that we sometimes overlook but that is just as important. And that is the social taboo linked to illiteracy or reading problems among adults.

This taboo means that people are too ashamed to admit that they have a problem; they develop strategies for concealing it, and may never have the confidence to seek help.

This has a huge negative impact on their quality of life and it has an economic impact on society as a whole, with increased spending on social benefits, health, justice, housing.

So we should never forget that what we are doing is vital not just for our future generations but also for our fellow adults.

With this report and with the work that will follow it, we are also giving them some hope that their problems can be overcome. We are telling them that this is not a taboo: but a job that needs to be done, and that can be done. This is why I am so proud of what we have already accomplished – although I know there is still a lot more to do - and I feel privileged to be in partnership with all of you in this endeavour.

I look forward to our continued collaboration. If we persevere in our combined efforts, I am confident that we will see improved literacy for both children and adults in the years ahead.

Together we can make the vision of 'literacy for all' a reality in Europe.

Thank you.

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