The 2023 UNESCO International Literacy Prizes
By Jamie Fowler, Benedetta Giordani, Maria Sadek, Clara Garnier-Barsanti and Grace Briggs-Jones
On International Literacy Day 2023, UNESCO announced the winners of the 2023 UNESCO International Literacy Prizes which rewarded six innovative programmes. Under the theme of “promoting literacy for a world in transition: building the foundations for sustainable and peaceful societies,” the celebrations took place at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris.
The first three awards were the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prizes, under which winners receive a medal, a diploma and an endowment of $20,000. With the support of the Republic of Korea, this prize – established in 1989 – rewards mother-language-based initiatives that promote literacy development. The second three awards were under the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy which was established in 2005 in collaboration with the People’s Republic of China. Focusing on initiatives that utilise technological environments to support out-of-school youth and adults in rural areas, the winners receive a medal, a diploma and an endowment of $30,000. Let’s get into the winning six initiatives!
The Finland-based GraphoGame programme was awarded the King Sejong Prize, chosen for its impactful collection of literacy games in fourteen different languages. Aiming to break disadvantage cycles, GraphoGame promoted literacy by employing the latest learning technologies, offering learning tools in various languages and working closely with teachers and educational institutions.
The King Sejong Prize was also awarded to the Himalayan Literacy Network, a non-governmental organisation furthering education among nomadic communities in the Himalayas. The organisation developed mobile schools that could travel together with the communities as well as a multilingual school curriculum to ensure children achieve proficiency in Gojri, Urdu and English.
The third winner was the “Africa e-Learning Project” launched by Snapplify in Eastern Cape, South Africa in 2011. This project has garnered great recognition through developing a 24/7 platform available in eleven South African languages, as well as other African languages like Swahili. The library also enables remote teachers and learners to use digital resources with reduced data and connectivity requirements, along with built in inclusivity features and a range of multicultural literature to develop awareness and critical thinking. These impressive strides to push accessibility have equipped over three million learners, with Snapplify holding further ambitions to work with partners across the African continent to deliver sustainable edtech resources.
On to the UNESCO Confucius Literacy Prize, where the first winner was the “Empowering remote and climate vulnerable communities with digital literacy” Programme by Friendship in Bangladesh. Starting back in 2006, Friendship’s mission was to ensure marginalised communities threatened by landscape erosion had the right to education. Introducing adult education to combat illiteracy, offline video-based learning to reach remote areas and reproducing a secondary education model, Friendship now supports over 32,000 students and provides skills-based training for school dropouts. Now, individuals from these communities, many of whom were previously illiterate, are speaking out for climate vulnerable areas on a global scale. Award-worthy indeed.
Next on our winners list for the Confucius Literacy Prize is the “My Very Own Library: Cultivating a culture of reading in the homes of children in the Dominican Republic” Programme by Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring. This innovative project is designed to provide books to children and youth who are from low-income families, aiming to instil a culture of reading at home for these children who may not otherwise be able to access it. The aim is to help thousands of these children kickstart their own libraries with a diverse range of books they can keep with them throughout their lives.
Completing the Confucius Literacy Prize winners list is a peer-lead organisation for psycho-social disabled individuals in Uganda’s rural Kayunga District. The “Peaceful Communities” programme aims to equip rural persons with disabilities with essential literacy skills which, in turn, will lead to fostering inclusive dialogues for peaceful communities as all types of people, disabled and non-disabled, would have equal tools to express their views with empowerment.
The UNESCO Literacy Prizes have been awarded since 1967, with 512 projects and programmes undertaken by governments, non-governmental organisations and individuals being recognised so far. UNESCO seeks to support effective literacy practices and encourage the promotion of dynamic literate societies through these prestigious prizes. Based on the recommendations of this year’s international jury, six outstanding programmes from Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Finland, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda have been rewarded for their immense contribution to “building the foundations for sustainable and peaceful societies” – and are all deserved winners. Congratulations to everyone involved in these amazing projects and programmes, you all have such a positive impact on literacy in today’s society!