Bridging the Gap: Ms. Mari Yasunaga

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Welcome to the BAICE e-forum, again! Today’s discussions are facilitated by Ms. Mari Yasunaga, Programme Specialist, Section for Youth, Literacy and Skills Development, UNESCO, Paris.

MariMari is a Programme Specialist, currently working in the Section for Youth, Literacy and Skills Development in the Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems of the UNESCO Education Sector. Within UNESCO, she has almost 20 years of experience in the field of education and international development, especially basic education, literacy and non-formal education.

Discussion Issue

Women’s literacy and sustainable development: bridging the gap for more integrated and coordinated efforts within the education sector and beyond  

Today’s e-Forum discussion is framed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit (New York, 25-27 September 2015) to stimulate and step up the efforts of the international community over the next 15 years. Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set, education is addressed as Goal 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” with youth and adult literacy being focused as a specific target and featured by other targets.

This means the beginning of a 15 years process that is intended to connect, meaningfully, the global agenda with policies and practice on the ground. Although adults from across the world who need to benefit most may not feel the changes overnight, this global agenda offers an opportunity to revisit the interrelations between literacy and sustainable development in order to accelerate the pace of positive transformation for them, including women with limited literacy skills.

Indeed, “Literacy and sustainable societies” was the theme of International Literacy Day 2015 and the focus of a Global Meeting that was held on 8-9 September 2015 in Paris, during which a renewed focus was given to the notion of literacy as a continuum of skills that are acquired through different learning pathways.

As previously discussed in this e-Forum and elsewhere, literacy is a driver for sustainable development (e.g. poverty eradication, agriculture, health, inclusive economic growth and decent work). At the same time, progress in different areas of development does contribute to promoting literacy, generating a demand, opportunities and enabling environments for people to acquire, use and advance their literacy skills.

In enhancing this interrelation between literacy and sustainable development, generation, dissemination and use of relevant knowledge is a key. As the previous discussions highlighted, a body of knowledge is gradually expanding, including that related to the benefits of literacy for sustainable development, which however may be weaker than what we know about the benefit of education for sustainable development. The impacts of research on policies and practice, and ultimately on people’s lives, need to be greater.

In this context, I would like to invite you to reflect on how to boost more integrated and coordinated efforts of researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and other actors for adult literacy, connecting literacy and sustainable development, especially on the following.

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the existing evidence base regarding the benefits of literacy for sustainable development? Do we know sufficiently about the impacts of women’s literacy on health, economic growth, environment and other areas of sustainable development?
  • How could the evidence base be enhanced regarding how progress in different areas of sustainable development influence people’s motivation and readiness for literacy skills acquisition, as well as their learning and its outcomes?
  • What are the kinds of partnership required to strengthen the evidence base on the interrelation between literacy and sustainable development and also to ensure that such evidence base is effectively used by policy-makers, practitioners and other actors?


  1. Demelash Woldu

    Thank you very much, Ms. Mari for your insightful discussion points! I have few reflections on the first issue: the available evidence such as research reports, evaluation reports, assessment reports, etc. whether undertaken by government or other development agencies demonstrates more of the quantitative aspects of ‘literacy’, the number of adults who can read and write. This can be beneficial in terms of indicating the status of literacy of countries and specific groups, and it can be used for development planning as well. However, such data seemed to lack the qualitative evidence that can suggest the types and levels of literacy and its impact on sustainable development. My concern is, do the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) consider qualitative indicators and evidence that can help to measure literacy results rather than figures?


      Thank you very much, Demelash. I would join you in stressing the important role that can be played by qualitative research, which was also highlighted by some others, in achieving the 2030 agenda and beyond.
      The proposed list of thematic indicators developed by the Technical Advisory Group on Education Indicators to monitor the progress of the 2030 Agenda is annexed to the Education 2030 Framework for Action which was recently adopted on 4 November.(

      In this list, the indicators for 4.6 “By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy” are proposed as follows: percentage of the population by age group achieving at least a fixed level of proficiency in functional literacy and numeracy; youth and adult literacy rate; and participation rate of youth/adults in literacy programmes.

      While this reflects an increased interest in measuring actual skills levels, these indicators are essentially designed for global tracking, for which “technical strength, feasibility, frequency of reporting, cross-national comparability and interpretability, and availability of data over time” need to be ensured. (see also Technical Advisory Group Proposal available at:

      In this sense, what is being done at country level or within a country is critically important in enhancing an evidence base on literacy progress, results and impacts of literacy programmes and effective practices, for which qualitative research and its effective use is essential.

  2. Ehsanur Rahman

    Mari Yasunaga in her proposition rightly pointed to the importance of evidence on the benefit of women literacy for development in the areas of health, economic, social etc. It’s true, there are many study findings generated by both academics, researchers and professionals confirming the co-relation between literacy/education and empowerment/development/changes in the living conditions.

    But the pity part is, use of most of these research/study reports remain confined among the education sector community. Seldom the other sector (agriculture, health, environment, for example) planners or investors consult these study findings to verify contribution of education in their own sectors. May be this is more true for the industries! Recently I heard one industrialist saying, SDG is something for the development practitioners, not for the corporate bodies!!

    I wonder whether there is need to revisit the research, study, evaluation planning process, addressing the questions like Who do it for What purpose, Who are we targeting to the findings and recommendations, and How we reach them to communicate the findings and recommendations.

  3. Anna Robinson-Pant

    Yes, these are important points about the kind of evidence that will be needed to argue for the relevance of literacy to the SDGs. I wonder how we can ‘capture’ some of the important findings from participatory and action research conducted at a micro level (discussed in the previous days too) about the kind of literacy learning that people are engaged in and/or would like to participate in. I am struck by a gap between the macro level policy debates about how literacy can support the various SDGs and the questions being asked by practitioners and participants about how development interventions relate to and take account of their everyday lives.

  4. Denis Katusiime

    Ms. Mari, the strengths and the weaknesses of the benefits of literacy for sustainable development are very crucial. But from my own perspective, what matters is how this sustained development is improving the lives of the people for whom it is meant to serve. It is the sustainability of human well-being as defined by individuals that is of most importance. The programs need to look at women’s literacy programs in terms of how they help them to improve their well-being. Some of these well-beings do not take much time to be achieved, while others take long. Once people have acquired the skills that are required to provide services to the communities where they live, then, knowing that they have to use them (skills) to earn an income to improve on their well-being is something that could follow. Literacy programs are doing well, however, policy makers has to keep their hands open for new perspectives and insights as they come in from partners in the literacy programs endeavor.

  5. Temesgen

    Many things subject to debate including the importance of democracy as various sources indicated. However, that cannot be denied is the importance of literacy as revealed by various reports as well as observed from lives of beneficiaries. The sustainability of its contributions is, however, under question. The prevailing trends observed on the provision of literacy skills are without creating sustainable literate environment. This seems to happen while trying to communicate good news to donors and authorities. The authentic voices of the poor women are overlooked. So, how can we know the “evidence base outcomes” is really authentic?

  6. Gina Lontoc

    There are two critical points in addressing the issues on literacy and SDGs. The first one concerns the focus of the efforts of different stakeholders in reaching the SDGs. Stakeholders operate in diverse organisational cultures which impact their priorities and their monitoring and assessment strategies. The conflicting objectives stakeholders hold make SDGs off target.

    Another crucial point is reporting back. What are considered to be determinants of success in meeting the SDGs? Are all targets measurable? How does qualitative research serve as a powerful tool in monitoring and evaluating progress towards the achievement of the SDGs? How do stakeholders create a shared understanding of “quality of evidence”? As mentioned in the previous e-Forum sessions, multistakeholder partnership is needed if we are to bridge the gap between literacy learning and the achievement of the SDGs.

  7. Mari Yasunaga

    Thank you very much for sharing your insights and ideas!

    Ehsanur questioned whether generated knowledge on literacy reaches and is used effectively by researchers, planners, practitioners and investors who work outside the sector. Yes, this is definitely another communication/coordination gap that needs to be narrowed. Bridging this gap would help us convince non-education actors about the benefit of literacy and could also help improve literacy learning that is embedded in programmes managed by non-education sectors. I also wonder whether it can enhance our knowledge about how progress in other sectors can create a demand for literacy, and stimulate and facilitate literacy learning, which is related to the issue of literate environments that was mentioned by Temesgen.

    Another gap that Anna reminded is the one between macro-level policy debates and findings of research conducted at the micro level. I entirely agree. There must be numerous participatory and action research as well as impact studies of literacy programmes that connect literacy and sustainable development. As previously discussed, however, not all of these are visible and easily accessible, although they could make positive impacts on global debate and advocacy efforts. Do we know any examples of sharing findings of impact studies and action research, as well as reports of programmes that address the interrelations between literacy and sustainable development?

    If there was a strategy to bridge these gaps, improving inter-sectoral cooperation and asking “research for what, by whom and to whom” as Ehsanur suggested, as well as ensuring better understandings of the nature and behaviours of multi-stakeholders, as Gina pointed out, could certainly be its part.

    As Denis and others stressed, people’s lives, where literacy is closely linked with continuous learning, their well-being and livelihoods, are central for sustainable development. I think that we would all agree with the importance of an evidence base on sustainable development perceived through the lens of people’s lives, as well as the value of such evidence based for making our collective efforts towards the SDGs more meaningful.