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posted Sep 11, 2012, 1:46 PM by Udhim Subba   [ updated Sep 11, 2012, 1:49 PM ]

Speech delivered on the International Literacy Day (8TH September, 2012)

Let me first of all convey my sincere greetings to the Principal, Vice Principal, colleagues and my dear young boys and girls.  Today is 8th September and every year, this day is observed as the International Literacy Day.  I take this great privilege to stand here to briefly talk on the topic of my interest ‘Literacy for Peace’ the theme for 2012 Literacy day. I would like to thank the YMSS literary committee for giving me this beautiful opportunity to deliver little things that I know on literacy – a powerful tool for fostering peace and justice in the society.

What is literacy? Whom do you call a literate person? The common understanding of literacy is being able to read and write. However literacy has far greater strength in contributing for the well being and happiness of a society.

In the words of Kofi Annan, the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations and the winner of 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a basic tool for daily life in modern society. It is a wall against poverty, and a building block of development. Literacy is a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”  Therefore Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for reducing child mortality, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy in the society. For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world.

However the sad part of humanity is, even today, still a huge fraction of our society remains illiterate. According to latest data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, 793 million adults – most of them girls and women - are illiterate. A further 67 million children of primary school age are not in primary school and 72 million adolescents of lower secondary school age are also missing out their right to an education.

 Let me speak something on Bhutanese context.  According to the 2010 GNH Survey, Literacy in Bhutan is at a little over 48 percent (Report published in KUENSEL, JAN 08, 2012). The literacy rate for males is 60 percent, while for females it is 30. Literacy is significantly higher in urban Bhutan at 71 percent to 40 in the rural.  Thimphu has the highest literacy at 72 percent, with Trashigang having the least at 35%. About 63 percent of respondents of the GNH survey 2010 had no formal education.

Almost 30 percent of the respondents during the survey did not know how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and more females do not know how HIV/AIDS is transmitted.  In rural Bhutan, lack of knowledge on HIV/AIDS transmission is significantly more common. Regarding culture, of the respondents, 67 percent said they have poor knowledge and understanding of tsangmo, 70 percent said they have poor ability to understand lozey.

In the area of governance, 62 percent of respondents said they have poor knowledge and understanding of the constitution, while 64 percent of respondents said they have poor knowledge of the difference between the national council and national assembly.  Almost 59 percent said they had poor knowledge and understanding of the roles and responsibilities of parliament members (MPs).

Significantly more females had poor knowledge and understanding of the constitution, legislative bodies, and the roles and responsibilities of MPs.  Lack of knowledge and understanding was also more prominent in rural Bhutan. The survey, conducted by the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS), contains the responses of 7,142 Bhutanese nationwide from various levels society.

 It is my belief that peace doesn’t necessarily mean absence of war. Like any other developing countries, the new culture of modernization in disguise of economic growth has already entered Bhutan. This has driven the outlook of the people in favor of a materialistic society. People have started coming out of their usual shell of contentment to join the rat race of consumerism. This has already sown the seeds of thirst for power and money, insecurity and jealousy, discontentment and frustration in the minds of the people. The society therefore, is unconsciously waiting for these socially vicious seeds to grow. In the long run, it will upset the existing tranquility of the nation. Literacy has an immense role to play in addressing these issues and sustain peace and harmony in the society

Literacy contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding of the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict. The connection between literacy and peace can be seen by the fact that in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment

All of us who are gathered here are the creams of the world, the fortunate lot. We proudly claim ourselves literate. We have finished our degree, master’s degree and aspiring to continue. Some of us are learning new ideas; reading, writing and understanding harder sentences in English and Dzongkha every day. We are equipped with this powerful weapon of literacy. But along with great power comes great responsibility. We have an opportunity to make use of our literacy to work for safer environment and happier community. We also have the responsibility to attend the call of our society, an opportunity to benefit those less fortunate than us. 

Therefore Literacy as an important part of all forms of Education should be used as a powerful weapon to gear the humanity towards a happier future - to stop violence and promote universal peace. If our thoughts aren’t any different from those who are practically illiterate, we are no different from them. Therefore let us ask ourselves finally. Are we really literate? Are we really educated? Do we know our constitution well? Are we using literacy to work for peace and harmony for the benefit of our society? Is our literacy skills giving us peace and contributing peace around?  The answers are all within us.  We may silently listen to our own answers. Here I give you the freedom of thoughts.

Let us be literate for the good cause of the humanity. 

Thank you for your attention.


Udhim Subba

UNESCO ASPnet Coordinator