The UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize was founded in 1989 by UNESCO and the Korean government to reward the activities of governments, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations displaying merit and achieving particularly effective results in contributing to literacy. It was also created to honor King Sejong who created Hangeul, the Korean language, 500 years ago.
Prize winners receive a silver medal, a certificate, and 20,000 USD. Each year, the award ceremony is held on September 8, International Literacy Day, when another UNESCO literacy prize, the UNESCO Confucius Prize, is awarded.
With the theme of this year, "Literacy and Peace with special consideration to gender equality," Burundi's National Literacy Service program and Mexico's Bilingual Literacy for Life program were awarded. As an honorable mention, Tagum City in the Philippines was awarded for its Peace Management Literacy and Continuing Education through Night Market program.
Burundi's National Literacy Service (Photo: Prime Hakiza)
According to census figures for 2008, 57.5% of Burundi's population was illiterate, of which 61% were women. The National Literacy Service has helped to address this inequality by creating courses open for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or region. It also includes a Peace Education and Sensitization workshop which works with educators and facilities to promote peace, human rights, and democracy. Through the program, more than 20,000 people are becoming literate each year.
Another winner, the National Institute for the Education of Adults in Mexico, was awarded for its Bilingual Literacy for Life program, which aims to provide bilingual education in Spanish and indigenous languages in the country's most disadvantaged communities. Through the program, more than 2,500 community centers and 20 mobile education centers have been built.
Tagum City in the Philippines has taught merchants in the night market through their program which also improves their sales and helps organize the market.
The prize winners were invited to Korea as part of an official annual invitation program sponsored by the Korean National Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. During the stay, they participated in the 2011 Asian and African Women's Conference at Sookmyung Women's University and various events for Hangeul Day. They also visited the royal tomb of King Sejong to meditate on the meaning and history of Hangeul.
They also appeared at the Special Round Table for the 2011 UNESCO Sejong Literacy Prize Winners to introduce their programs to Korean literacy experts and discuss the future of literacy activities of the world. Several important figures including UNESCO Literacy Education Prize jury member Kim Shin-il and Baek Eun-sun from the National Institute for Lifelong Education (NILE) attended the event to share their thoughts on global literacy issues.
2011 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize winners and officials from UNESCO
"In order for Mexico to achieve further progress in the field of literacy, it needs to break away from its traditional and stifling institutional structures,” said Juan Jose Diaz Barriga, one of the participants from the National Institute for the Education of Adults. "Greater cooperation is needed between literacy providers from the government, civil society, and other international organizations."
Another UNESCO literacy award, the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, was awarded to the American program Room to Read, and to Peaceful Coexistence of Communities and Good Governance in North Kivu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.