Activities in Support of International Literacy Year - 1990
Bahá'í International Community Organizational Report to the seventh meeting of the International Task Force on LiteracyBonn, Germany
4-8 February 1991
Knowledge is as wings to Man's life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. - Bahá'u'lláh
The ability to read has been recognized as a fundamental human right in the Bahá'í teachings since Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed his message of universal peace and brotherhood to the peoples of the world in the late nineteenth century. Moreover, the Bahá'í teachings suggest that girls and boys should follow the same curriculum and that "if there is not money enough in a family to educate both the girl and the boy the money must be dedicated to the girl's education, for she is the potential mother."
Accordingly, and in light of the United Nations proclamation of 1990 as International Literacy Year, the Bahá'í International Community is pleased to take this opportunity to share with its co-members of the International Task Force on Literacy a summary of the principle literacy activities carried out during the past two years by its international office in New York and its national and local affiliates around the world.
A. International Representation
The Bahá'í International Community has actively supported the work of the International Task Force on Literacy since December 1988, coordinating representation on its behalf at the Chantilly, Mombasa, New Delhi and Paris meetings. Most recently, the Bahá'í International Community in New York served as the chair of the Event Planning Committee which organized a ceremony/reception and seminar at United Nations Headquarters on December 10 and 11, 1990, for the conclusion of the ITFL Book Voyage Project. The Committee included members from UNESCO, the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN/DPI), the Center for Human Rights, the NGO committees on education and human rights and the Literacy Assistance Center for New York City. On behalf of the international community, the Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, participated in the ceremony/reception by accepting the book of messages from learners around the world. Mr. Andri Isaksson, Director of the UNESCO New York Office, also provided a statement. The seminar, entitled "International Literacy: 1990 and Beyond," included a panel of speakers and musical entertainment, marking the conclusion of both International Literacy Year and the Book Voyage Project.
At the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand, the Bahá'í International Community distributed a publication entitled "Survey of Bahá'í Education Programs" which contains descriptions of five very different Bahá'í educational programmes. In addition, the Bahá'í representative presented papers on four of the round-table discussions topics. The Bahá'í representative served as the NGO Vice-President on the Bureau of the Conference and is currently co-chairing a committee promoting an international NGO Network to support the "Framework for Action" adopted at the Jomtien Conference.
B. Country Activities
In a letter of 10 July 1989 addressed to the Bahá'ís of the World, the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body for the Bahá'í world stated, "Moreover, further systematic attention needs to be given to the eventual elimination of illiteracy from the Bahá'í community,..." Further to this, on 18 May 1990, the Bahá'í International Community addressed its 151 national affiliates around the world with a letter and full report on follow-up to the "World Conference on Basic Education for All." Included in the report were suggestions as to how Bahá'í communities could contribute to the promotion of Education for All.
To date, reports on literacy activities have been received from fifty-two (52) countries. These activities include hosting a celebration of ILY on Human Rights Day, organizing cultural events, and sponsoring national and international conferences, all to promote literacy. (Please find an alphabetical listing of some of these events, at the end of this report.)
Non-formal education activities: In Bahá'í communities around the world, literacy and other change-inducing activities emanate primarily from the natural stirrings at the grass roots. Thus Bahá'í pre-schools, kindergartens, tutorial schools and standard classes have been created in a great number of communities to meet local needs and concerns. Over the past two years the number of ongoing Bahá'í educational programs world wide has increased from 573 to 697: 186 in Africa; 142 in the Americas; 331 in Asia; 12 in the Pacific; and 8 in Europe.
Full participation of women in community life is a goal for Bahá'í communities. Equal participation, however, requires equal access to education. Therefore, Bahá'í literacy programs are designed to encourage participation by all members of the community. Moreover, a major aim of many local literacy efforts is to empower women, both in their traditional roles as mothers and educators of children, and in their new roles as full participants in the advancement of their communities and the world.
Bahá'í literacy programs for women in Kenya, India, Zaire, and Panama exemplify the rich variety, originality, and responsiveness of programs that spring from the grass roots. In Kenya, women's literacy rests on a series of mothers' booklets, developed by the Bahá'ís to assist women to teach health, agriculture, morals, and domestic skills to children. These booklets have been shared with Bahá'í communities around the world and are currently being translated into 26 languages. In Panchgani, India, 30 literacy centers operated by a Bahá'í school served 900 adults in 1984, 750 of whom were women; in 1989, the program had expanded to 100 centers in 60 villages. Since 1987, 2500 students in Zaire have completed literacy courses offered by the Bahá'í community. The "Bayanda Project" has experienced a high rate of success with a literacy program for the Bayandas (Pygmies) of north-eastern Zaire who previously had little or no opportunity for formal education; 70% were women and girls. In Panama, the Guaymi Cultural Center assisted the Ministry of Education to create culturally sensitive literacy materials based on spiritual principles, such as the principles of unity in diversity and the equality of men and women.
Formal education activities: Formal Bahá'í schools (primary, secondary, and tertiary) around the world have increased by 29 during the past two years and now number 62: 10 in Africa, 19 in the Americas, 30 in Asia, and 3 in the Pacific. These schools, grounded in the principle of the oneness of humankind, are open to everyone in the community.
C. Related Conferences
Over the past two years, the Association for Bahá'í Studies, an international association dedicated to the study of the Bahá'í Writings and their application to modern problems, has recently hosted the following conferences:
"The Role of Women in an Advancing Civilization," 24 - 27 March 1989, Adelaide, Australia.
"Harmony Between Religion and Science," 27 June 1989, Trinidad.
"Human Development and Society," 30 September - 1 October 1989, Santiago, Chile.
"Economy: Old Dogmas, New Thinking," 29 September - 1 October, 1989, Austria.
"The Environment: Humanity's Common Heritage," 13 - 16 April 1990, Perth, Australia.
"Community and Diversity," 6 - 8 April 1990, Birmingham, England.
"Fostering a Creative Development," 28 - 30 September 1990, Nairobi, Kenya.
"Models of Racial Unity," 9 - 11 November 1990, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
"Freedom," 18 - 19 November 1990, Paris, France.
Though conceived, coordinated and hosted by Bahá'ís, these conferences bring together for consultation a diversity of peoples and opinions whose aim is the promotion of knowledge and the advancement of civilization.
In conclusion, the Bahá'í International Community anticipates a continual increase in the number and variety of education programs in Bahá'í communities around the world and is committed to promoting education for all people.
List of Activities Reported by National Affiliates
Australia: Distributed a Resource Package on how to become involved in local literacy projects to all local Bahá'í communities.
Brazil: Seven communities in conjunction with the School of the Nations organized different activities involving children in support of ILY. One project included sponsorship by the Secretary of Education of the Federal District together with the Peace Education Programme. Additionally, a paper was presented to UNICEF entitled, "The Rural Politechnic Institute in Djalal Ehrari: Creating a New Vision for Basic Education in the Amazon."
Chad (Tchad): In conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the Bahá'í Community sponsored a program with a guest speaker on ILY which was televised on 24 October 1989.
Cook Islands: At the request of the government of the Cook Islands, a paper was submitted as a contribution to a commission established to look into the country's education system.
Ecuador: On 16 October 1989, Radio Bahá'í in Otavalo, Ecuador began transmitting the first, second and third courses in compensatory schooling. Representatives attended a meeting sponsored by UNESCO on Basic Education for Adults.
France: Plans are underway for a project jointly sponsored by the Bahá'ís and ACAFOM (Association for the Education of Immigrant Families ) on the outskirts of Paris.
Gambia: The Bahá'ís created the Mbayen Fula Project, designed to make use of volunteers from the United States. The volunteers do not actually teach the class but help train, encourage, and direct the efforts of village level volunteers-teachers. Additionally, a Bahá'í literacy exhibit was created to participate in a special seminar week sponsored by the Non-Formal Education Services Unit of the Department of Education.
Hawaiian Islands: Local communities have launched two programs called "Project Read" and "Breath of Life." The Bahá'í Community Services program is providing training for tutors for literacy classes, in collaboration with the Governor's Council on Literacy. At the 7th Annual Pacific Educational Conference entitled "The Pacific Child: In the 21st Century," a large literacy exhibit distributed numerous Bahá'í position papers as well as the documents from the Jomtien Conference.
India: Two tribal Bahá'ís were awarded the first prize at Literacy Learners Song Competition organized in collaboration with ITFL and with the full support of UNICEF. Twenty-nine organizations participated. The Faizi Bahá'í Institute of Indore, which conducts a vocational training project for rural and tribal women, includes a literacy program for women (see ONE Country, Vol. 2, Issue 4).
Macau: The Bahá'ís were instrumental in promoting literacy work in Macau. The ITFL representative was approached by representatives of the Bahá'í Community thereby creating the Literacy Association of Macau. This Association, along with the BADI Foundation, created a small project preparing Chinese youth to assist with basic literacy work designed for new immigrants in need of special tutoring. Additionally, a position statement on the Bahá'í viewpoint on literacy was drafted for distribution to the community at large.
Mexico: A Bahá'í booth was created with an emphasis on ILY for participation at a fair sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, Ensanada.
The Netherlands: ILY materials received a wide distribution to local Bahá'í Communities requesting that they support the local community programs for literacy education.
New Zealand: Participation in national conferences entitled "Valuing Education" and "ILY Conference." At the "ILY Conference" in Auckland, the Bahá'ís were invited to discuss the relationship of literacy to spiritualism, and accordingly chose the theme "Literacy and the Preservation of Spiritual Heritage."
Nicaragua: The Bahá'ís initiated a literacy project in the one Bahá'í Community, El Trapiche, where there were illiterate Bahá'ís and urged the Bahá'í youth to take part in the literacy project initiated by the Ministry for Adult Education.
Norway: Bahá'í Representatives participated in a UNESCO seminar on literacy and initiated contacts with the project secretary for ILY, Mr. Leif Ellingsen.
Pakistan: The Bahá'ís on Muzaffarabad organized a literacy conference at their National Bahá'í Centre, at which the Principal of the Neelum Public School presided. Leaders from all walks of life made presentations including statistics on the challenges facing the great amounts of people still illiterate. Attendees included women and children. Songs were sung by the children and a famous Bahá'í poet, Mr. Mukhlis Vijdani presented an Urdu poem on literacy.
Panama: A two-day seminar on literacy was held by the Bahá'í Community in collaboration with the Panamanian Ministry of Education in Panama City on 23-24 April 1990. The Bahá'ís were specifically asked to speak on "spiritual qualities" and on "Universal Elements Essential in Education." The Minister of Education requested that the Bahá'ís present their literacy projects to the Ministry of Education.
Puerto Rico: The Bahá'í Community addressed letters to numerous schools, clubs, associations and local governments urging the creation of programs designed to supply free education to all.
Spain: The 1990 annual two-day conference sponsored by the Association for Bahá'í Studies in Zaragoza focused on education. Main points covered were the role of literacy in the elimination of prejudices of all kinds, and the actual literacy situation in the world today and the requirements for the future. A wide circle of Spanish scholars was in attendance.
Transkei: A presentation of "A Practical Guide," created by UNESCO for ILY was made to the Minister of Education introducing him to the aims of the year and to the fact that the Bahá'í Community in his country has adopted the goals prescribed.
Uganda: The Bahá'ís were invited to provide an exhibit at the national celebration for ILY, 8 September 1990 in Kamuli District. Posters, quotations on literacy and children's books were available at the booth. The Bahá'ís were specially recognized and thanked for their participation in the event by both the Chairman of Kamuli Adult Education and the District Administrator of Kamuli.
Survey of Bahá'í Education Programmes, Bahá'í International Community, January 1990, New York ONE Country: Newsletter of the Bahá'í International Community *Vol. 2, Issue 4; October-December 1990
BIC Document #91-0204