Literacy and numeracy are central to lifelong learning and sustainable development. In today’s fast-changing world, both skills are essential to achieving independence and wellbeing, and provide the basis for sustainable societies with constant socio-economic progress.

Literacy and Numeracy from a Lifelong Learning Perspective, a new policy brief by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), challenges the assumption that literacy and numeracy are stand-alone skills to be learned within a set timeframe. It argues instead for a lifelong learning perspective: investing in sustained learning and updating already acquired skills. The brief shows that for literacy and numeracy to be effective, they must be seen as a continuum of proficiency levels and not as a simple dichotomy between who is ‘literate’ and who is ‘illiterate’.

The policy brief provides a set of recommendations to support policymakers in addressing youth and adult literacy and numeracy by adopting holistic, multi-sectoral approaches within a lifelong learning perspective. This underpins the importance of encouraging a culture of learning at different levels – family, community and society – to address the manifold demands of lifelong learners.

The paper also points out various ways that governments can implement literacy and numeracy programmes. Optimal implementation of literacy programmes will not only help countries meet the 10 targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) 4, which calls for ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, but the other 16 SDGS, as well.


Policy Brief 7 – Literacy and Numeracy from a Lifelong Learning Perspective (PDF 0.1 MB)

Used strategically, libraries have the potential to play a key role in promoting national literacy efforts, as they are trusted by people in the communities they serve and are in a good position to provide a wide variety of literacy opportunities. Libraries provide literacy resources for children, youth and adults at all proficiency levels, thereby making an enormous contribution to supporting a reading culture and the creation of a literate society. They are also an ideal community space for facilitating intergenerational and family learning.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) believes in and advocates for learning both in- and outside of formal education settings. It works with formal, non-formal and informal centres of learning, including libraries. The Institute has now released a policy brief entitled Using Libraries to Support National Literacy Efforts, which examines the role of libraries in supporting lifelong literacy. The policy brief looks at how libraries nurture early literacy skills up to advanced levels of literacy proficiency, and the need for libraries to be involved in policy dialogue connected to literacy. The publication goes further to highlight the fact that libraries at every level, local and national, should be well-resourced to serve their surrounding communities and users in order to create a successful learning environment.

Harnessing the potential power of libraries by integrating their activities with national literacy efforts and strategies at local, regional and national levels will help countries achieve the literacy targets set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


UIL Policy Brief 6 - Using Libraries to Support National Literacy Efforts (PDF 0,1 MB)

In Asia and the Pacific region, community learning centres – or CLCs – improve access to lifelong learning and education, and serve as an integral mechanism for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal 4: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

It is against this backdrop that six Asian countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam) participated in exploratory research launched by NILE in late 2015 to analyse the wider benefits of CLCs so as to raise socio-political awareness of their significance. The outcome of the research done in 2015/16 resulted in this synthesis report, which provides an overview of CLCs within the contexts of policy, practice and achievements. More importantly, it identifies the factors that make a CLC approach to lifelong learning relevant and significant.

By presenting sound evidence on the advantages brought to both individuals and communities by CLCs, the report hopes to garner support for their future development from national and local governments.

The chapters of this report deal with:

  1. The place and importance of CLCs in international lifelong learning policy discourse
  2. The six countries in historical, social, economic and cultural terms
  3. Policies and frameworks related to CLCs
  4. The current operational status of CLCs
    1. Governance, management and administration
    2. Operational and financial resources
    3. Human resources
  5. Monitoring and evaluating: the achievements and benefits of CLCs
    1. Monitoring and evaluation
    2. Achievements and benefits
  6. Open discussion
  7. Some implications and proposals

Download: Synthesis Report on the State of Community Learning Centres in Six Asian Countries (PDF 836 KB)

Please contact uil-lbs@unesco.org for more information.

Mauritania’s “National Programme for Development of the Education Sector” (PNDSE 2011-2020) gives particular attention to basic education. This addresses Mauritania’s challenges, with among the lowest rates in primary school enrolment and adult literacy in the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as significant gender disparities in education, to the disadvantage of girls’ access. Evidence shows that illiteracy and low educational achievement are being passed from one generation to the next. Existing evidence from around the world seems to indicate that community-based family learning strategies can play a vital role in addressing the literacy challenge. Usually, the family literacy approach combines elements of adult education, parents’ education and pre-school or/ and primary education – to enhance the literacy of both adults and children and to support teachers and parents in preventing future drop-out. Community-based provision strengthens the capacity of the local community to support families.

Download: Review of international experience and best practice in family literacy
(PDF 781 KB)

Learners, facilitators and managers of Kominkan (Community Learning Centres in Japan) and Community Learning Centres (CLCs) and other institutions that promote community-based learning, governments, civil society organisations, United Nations (UN) agencies, development partners, members of academia, the private sector and media from 29 countries, gathered in Okayama City, Japan at the Kominkan-CLC International Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) – “Community-Based Human Development for Sustainable Society” – commit to continuing and expanding Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) through community-based learning.

Okayama City is a place where several exchanges have already taken place between Kominkan and Community Learning Centres during the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), including the Kominkan Summit in Okayama in 2007; moreover, support for Kominkan and community-based learning has a long history in Japan. In recognition of the principles of ESD, we have actively participated in an open and transparent process of drafting these commitments and share in the ownership of this outcome.


Okayama Commitment 2014: promoting ESD beyond DESD through community-based learning (PDF 171 KB)

Also available in Japanese:

岡山コミットメント(約束) 2014 〜コミュニティに根ざした学びをとおして ESD を推進するために、「国連ESDの10年」を超えて〜 (PDF 1.32 KB)


The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has just published its fifth policy brief, entitled Making Large-Scale Literacy Campaigns and Programmes Work. The brief provides policymakers with a set of recommendations based on an analysis of adult literacy campaigns and programmes that took place around the world between 2000 and 2014. Despite a resurgence in the popularity of literacy campaigns as a means of mobilizing political will, resources and people, the analysis finds that most large-scale campaigns failed to achieve their overly ambitious targets. The policy brief’s key message is therefore that the literacy challenge needs to be addressed from a lifelong learning perspective. This will help policymakers to achieve the literacy target of the new global education agenda, Education 2030. Taking into account the complexity of the literacy task ahead, the policy brief recommends linking literacy campaigns to social change and mobilization; ensuring adequate investment; integrating literacy into holistic learning systems; making systematic use of technology; and improving the quality of literacy data.

The fourth policy brief in the UIL series recommends youth engagement in multipurpose community learning spaces and centres. The aim is to improve their access to full participation in learning and community development activities. It is based on discussions from the International Policy Forum on Literacy and Life Skills Education for Vulnerable Youth through Community Learning Centres held on 20 – 22 August 2013 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Policy Brief 4 is built on the second policy brief published by UIL, Youth Matters: Equipping Vulnerable Young People with Literacy and Life Skills.

UIL Policy Brief 4 Community Matters: Fulfilling Learning Potentials for Young Men and Women describes features of community learning centres, which have different names in local languages across world regions. Furthermore, it illustrates how community learning centres from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, Thailand, and the United Kingdom engage young men and women in the planning and implementation processes.


Community Matters: Fulfilling Learning Potentials for Young Men and Women (PDF 0.3 MB)


The third in UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) current series of policy briefs, titled Gender equality matters: Empowering women through literacy programmes, offers research-informed analysis and action-oriented recommendations for local and national governments, providers of literacy programmes and educators on how to reduce the gender gap in adult literacy.

This document describes measures taken in different countries to reduce gender disparities in literacy and presents best-practice examples of literacy programmes that respond to the challenges women face in accessing learning opportunities. It is based on experiences shared by delegates from twelve countries at the International Conference on Achieving Literacy for All  in New Delhi in July 2013 and on a research study on women’s literacy and empowerment which was presented for discussion to the participants of the aforementioned conference and recently published by UIL.

One of the main conclusions of this policy brief is that while literacy alone does not empower women to create and participate in change, as part of policies and programmes that promote equality in all aspects of life, it plays a vital role in changing the lives of millions of women who have received little formal education.


UIL Policy Brief 3: Gender equality matters: Empowering women through literacy programmes (PDF 1,3 MB)

There are more than one billion young people worldwide aged between 15 and 24, representing the largest cohort that has ever had to progress from childhood to adulthood. Almost 87 per cent of them live in developing countries (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2011). As many as 123 million of this generation, 61 percent of them girls, were reported to be illiterate in 2011 (UIS, 2013).


Youth Matters:  Equipping Vulnerable Young People with Literacy and Life Skills - UIL Policy Brief 2 (PDF  263 KB)

To raise awareness of policy makers on key issues on lifelong learning, adult education and literacy, UIL has started developing a series of policy briefs. The theme of the Policy Brief No.1 is Quality Matters: Improving the Status of Literacy Teaching Personnel, and is based on the discussions of experts and practitioners from more than ten countries during the “International Workshop on Strategies for the Improvement of the Status of Literacy Teaching Personnel” (held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March 2013). In this brief it is argued that to harness the potential of the world’s illiterates, policy-makers and practitioners need to focus their attention on improving the status of literacy facilitators, because teaching personnel are vital to ensure quality in education. Based on the experience from a various countries, it suggests possible elements for reflection and action.

Download: UIL Policy Brief No. 1 – Quality Matters: Improving the Status of Literacy Teaching Personnel (PDF 201 KB)