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European Commission


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

Improving the well-being of citizens by improving literacy

High Level Conference on Education and Development/Brussels

23 May 2013

Dear Andris, Dear Catherine,

Dear Laurentien,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very grateful for this opportunity to address an issue I feel very strongly about: the importance of literacy.

Literacy competence is the foundation of all other learning. It is the key to continuous learning and keeping up with what is going on in the world, and to being a full member of a community.

We live in a world where technological advances constantly open up new forms of social, cultural and democratic participation. And workplaces increasingly reward the ability to acquire new skills throughout one's working life.

But all these exciting opportunities are denied to those with only limited basic skills. They are excluded from further education or training. They find themselves increasingly locked out of the labour market and society.

This is already happening, right now in Europe, where one in five pupils -and more than 73 million adults - cannot read and write properly.

Improving literacy is not an objective for our development policies only. It is a task for our internal policies as well. The EU has set a benchmark to reduce the share of low achievers in literacy to less than 15% by 2020.

At the moment only three of the 27 EU Member States have reached this target. It is clear that we need to step up our efforts, for the sake of our citizens, of our economies and our societies.

That is why literacy is a crucial element of Europe's growth strategy, with its strong emphasis on education and training. That is why an important part of my work as European Commissioner is devoted to improving literacy in the EU.

I have launched a literacy campaign called 'Europe loves reading', which I am enjoying enormously. By leading a series of reading events in schools across Europe, I have tried to bring my own contribution to making children more aware of the importance and of the beauty of reading.

This awareness raising campaign is proving to be very useful in exerting pressure to the responsible authorities to do more on this issue.

We all need to do more!

I also entrusted a High Level Group of Experts with the task of identifying ways to improve literacy across all age groups in Europe. It was chaired by Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands – who is here with us today, and whom I would like to thank again for her excellent work.

The Group presented its final report in September 2012. I would like to share with you some of its findings, which I believe are relevant both for Europe and beyond.

First of all, achieving real improvement in literacy requires political ownership and co-operation across the policy spectrum. Literacy strategies must cover all ages and be independent of political timetables.

Family environment is crucial, too, so family literacy programmes should be promoted, to help parents develop their literacy skills and the confidence they need to engage their children and motivate them to read.

Finally, it is important to develop broad public awareness-raising campaigns at local, regional and national level on the relevance, value and joy of reading and writing.

As the Chair of the Group has put it, their report should be seen as a wake-up call. We cannot afford to let that call go unheeded.

For a start, we will shortly establish a European network of literacy organisations to facilitate the sharing of good practices and policy initiatives aimed at improving literacy performance across the Member States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have briefly outlined the challenges that the EU is facing in the area of literacy, together with some of the initiatives we are taking to respond to them.

I am confident that the lessons we have drawn and the good practices we have identified could prove useful also for those countries outside the EU that are also trying to raise literacy levels.

This is a task that we need to take very seriously, because the stakes are so high: No skill is as crucial to the future of a child; or as essential to the building and strengthening of a democratic society, as the ability to read and write.

This is as true in Europe, as it is true for the rest of the world.

Let us all take inspiration from the example of one young girl, Malala Yousafzai, and from her fight for the right to have an education. Her extraordinary example is the most convincing demonstration of the importance of fighting and winning this struggle; it shows why this is such a worthy cause.

Thank you again for this opportunity to address you. I truly hope that our experience in EU will provide some useful input for your discussions.

Thank you for your attention.

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