As defined by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), literacy means “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying context.” In Myanmar, monastic education has been given emphasis since the days of ancient Myanmar monarchs, with the monasteries acting as the major institutions for education. All Myanmar kings and princes learned from the monks, whom they had high respect for. The literacy rate of Myanmar was 85 per cent throughout history until Myanmar fell under the yoke of British colonialists.
An impressively high rate of literacy fell to 35 per cent. But thanks to sustained efforts, which started after Myanmar wrested back its independence in 1948, the rate of literacy raised its head, reaching a high level again. In retrospect, it is found that Myanmar launched its literacy movement starting from Bast Sanpya village in Meiktila district in 1964.
Then, literacy courses were conducted across the country with the result that Myanmar won the Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Prize in 1971 and the Noma Prize in 1983. This success can be attributed to the good leadership of the then government.
Moreover, the close and cordial co-operation between the volunteer teachers and illiterate people is the cornerstone of this achievement, which is worth honouring.
In a traditional interpretation, literacy is the ability to read, write and do the basic mathematical calculations. This is the reason why the then Myanmar government called the literacy campaign as three Rs movement — reading, writing and a rithmetic. It is a fact that being literate can strengthen the ability, self-confidence and critical thinking of all, serving as a basis for progress of the human society. In addition, it is always worth remembering that literacy is fundamental to economic development, social development and environmental protection.
It is also important for eradication of poverty as well as improvement of family health. The Millennium Development Goals concerning eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achievement of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and progress of a global partnership for development cannot be realised without significant advancement in the literacy dimension.