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    UNIS/SG/2361
    13 September 1999
    Secretary-General, in Address to ‘Learning Never Ends’ Colloquium,
    Calls Education Investment which Yields Highest Profit

     

    NEW YORK, 10 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the address delivered today in New York by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the “Learning Never Ends” Colloquium:
     

     Today we witness the happy union of three themes.  You could sum them up as experience, learning and peace.  For this month, we will conclude the International Year of Older Persons.  Today, we celebrate International Literacy Day.  And in a few days, we will open the International Year for the Culture of Peace.  
     There is surely nothing that better binds those three themes together than the goal lifelong learning.  "Learning never ends" is therefore an excellent heading for this event.  I would like to thank the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their vision in making it happen, as well as Counsellor Fernandez for a job well done over the past year.

     In Africa, it is said that when an old man dies, a library disappears.  This reminds us of the vital role older persons play as intermediaries between the past, the present and the future; of the veritable lifeline they provide in society.  Without the knowledge and wisdom of the old, the young would never know where they come from or where they belong.  But in order for the old to have a shared language with the young, they must have the opportunity to continue learning throughout life.

     The International Year of Older Persons is a powerful message of the importance of building a Society for All Ages.  It tells us that young and old alike have a right to an environment conducive to growth, learning and creative fulfilment .
     
     The United Nations Plan of Action on Ageing, written nearly 20 years ago, states that “preparation of the entire population for the later stages of life should be an integral part of social policies".  As we approach a future where every third individual is going to be over 60, it is high time that we work together to make that a reality.

     And we must work together to stamp out illiteracy in all ages.  There are 880 million illiterates in the world today.  Two thirds of them are women.  More than 120 million children are deprived of all education, formal or informal.  Unless we step up our commitment to literacy, they will be the adult illiterates of tomorrow.  This International Literacy Day is an occasion for us to focus our efforts.

     The latest UNESCO estimates give us cause for hope.  The percentage of adult illiterates in the world has steadily declined from more than one third in 1970 to a quarter in 1990.  It is projected to drop to one fifth in the beginning of the new millennium.  

    But literacy goes beyond learning how to read and write; building a literate world requires more than literacy programmes alone.  The United Nations family and Member States must work jointly to build societies where literacy is integrated into overall development efforts.  We must aim to create competence and skills that enable people to confront and solve problems, formulate their own visions of development and make informed judgements in the decision-making processes that affect them.  We must make the best use of technologies, both traditional and new, to help bridge the knowledge gap.  We must strive to provide lifelong learning opportunities for all.

    All this is brought into even greater focus as we prepare to launch the International Year for the Culture of Peace in three day's time.  The year will lead to the International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, beginning in 2001.   

    We in the United Nations have learned, from our experience of rebuilding societies ravaged by conflict, that peace requires far more than the absence of war.  We have seen that the seeds of war lie in uneven and unequal development.  We have seen that the roots of conflict lie in inadequate understanding and opportunity.  And we have seen that the prevention of hatred lies in education and knowledge.

    My many years of service with the United Nations have convinced me that the first ingredient of political stability is an informed citizen; that the first ingredient of economic progress is a skilled worker; and that the first ingredient of social justice is an enlightened society.  

    Education, is quite simply, peace-building by another name.  Education is the most effective form of defence spending there is.  Education is an investment which yields a higher profit than any other.  For it yields promise for those who have known only poverty; progress for those who have known only privation; peace for those who have known only pain.

    And so education is truly a process that is never done.  Experience and learning are indeed crucial pillars of peace.  On behalf of the United Nations, I am proud to join you today in reminding the world that learning never ends.  At the end of this bloody century, let that be our battle cry for a new and peaceful millennium.

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