International Literacy Day 2021 and UNESCO’s support to Uzbekistan’s Government in prioritizing access to education

Ever since 1967, International Literacy Day (ILD) celebrations have taken place annually around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. This year’s ILD is celebrated under the theme “Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide”.

We are aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults at an unprecedented scale. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionally affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults.

It is with great pleasure and excitement to report that in Uzbekistan the literacy rate in 2021 reached 99.99%. In achieving this universal literacy rate, undoubtedly highest credit goes to the hard work, dedication and commitment of the Government of Uzbekistan and its education sector staff.

The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Beyond its intrinsic importance as part of the right to education, literacy empowers individuals and improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value. It is also a driver for sustainable development. Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4. Literacy, therefore, is central to a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

UNESCO has made significant efforts in advocating for inclusive education, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis, developing tools such as the “all means all” education campaign. In her address at the launch of the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report in June, 2020, Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, called global community to seize “the opportunity to make education more inclusive – a cornerstone for a more resilient society.”

Under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s Government has managed to quadrupled the number of preschool educational institutions and as a result to increase coverage with preschool education and care from 24% in 2017 to 62% in 2021, despite the rapid population growth. And while leveraging private sector involvement.

One of the UNESCO’s observations for the development of the education system of Uzbekistan was to maintain the coverage with the higher education at the minimum of 30% in order to provide the fast-growing economy of the country with the high-calibre experts.  Following with the recommendation of UNESCO, Government of Uzbekistan has taken practical steps to double the number of the higher education providers within the past three years and to triple the higher education coverage reaching the 28% by 2021, reaching the target set while aiming for the coverage to reach 60% by 2030.

Moreover, UNESCO urges country officials to pay particular attention to the quality of education along with ensuring the access to education. One of the approach of the country in this regard was to shift from rote-learning in traditional schooling to mastering competencies for 21st century’s labour market. New model of schools were established in the country – so called Presidential, creative and specialized schools with the STEAM curricula adopted from promising experiences globally. In 2020 alone, despite the negative effects of COVID-19 pandemic to school system, 56 such schools were created in mathematics, 28 in chemistry and biology, and 14 in computer sciences, information and communication technologies. In terms of secondary specialized and professional education 339 new vocational schools, 194 colleges and 195 technical schools launched during the last year. Within this framework, UNESCO launched the project “Adapting and Scaling TPD@Scale(link sends e-mail) in Uzbekistan” in close collaboration with the Agency for Presidential Education Institutions, aiming at examining ways of adapting and scaling ICT-facilitated Teacher Professional Development (TPD) models to reach improved quality education in the schools of the Agency, with a view of further scaling the model in the Republic.

« … our outstanding educator Abdullah Avloni said “Education for us is the most important issue, our happiness, our life and destiny depend on it” This approach has become the criterion of our efforts in advancing education sector. Indeed, if we change education, education will change a person. If a person changes, our entire society will change…» – from the address of Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, at the celebrations on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Uzbekistan’s independence.

UNESCO has also been making its contribution to support the reforms in Uzbekistan and its Education Sector, which the central during the latest high-level discussions held between President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Director General of UNESCO Ms Audrey Azoulay, as well as during the visits of the Assistant Director-General for education Ms Stefania Giannini to Uzbekistan.

As a result, the education related issues, including access to education, have deeply settled in the bilateral agenda, making one of the biggest portfolios of the Country Program and “road maps” intended for further expanding cooperation. It is worth noting that UNESCO with the financial assistance of international donors, such as the European Union, has launched several projects totaling almost 13 million USD aimed at reinforcing technical and vocational education and learning in rural areas, supporting teachers, increasing social harmony among youth and strengthening gender equality through the public education system.

According to agreements reached at the last high-level interactions the two sides are committed and ready to further deepen multilateral efforts to promote education in Uzbekistan in the years to come. One of the major outcomes of this dialogue would be the jointly holding in Tashkent in Autumn 2022 the World Conference (Global Forum) on Early Childhood Education – UNESCO’s landmark event in education sphere.