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© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Mohan
Indigenous children from Sabah's island schools benefit from a special supplementary reading program by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education.

International Literacy Day • 8 September 2008

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is committed to improving literacy and education for all children in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, 19 August 2008 – UNICEF Malaysia marks this year’s International Literacy Day, themed ‘Literacy is the best remedy’, with a focus on improving education in terms of access, equity and quality, particularly for vulnerable groups of children in Malaysia.

“A child who can read and write is one who can be taught. Children who can be taught can be empowered to claim their rights, change their lives, improve their communities and influence their destinies,” said UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Mr Youssouf Oomar.

Mr Youssouf stressed that education was not a privilege, but the right of all children in Malaysia, as accorded to them by the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Government’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), as well as the goals of the Dakar Framework for Action.

“Fulfilling children’s right to education leads to the realisation of other rights for them – the right to be healthy and free of HIV infection, the right to be protected against drugs and violence, and the right to what is best for them,” he added.

If future generations of children are literate and well-educated, this will serve to widen the economic base of society, thus strengthening Malaysia’s economic capability.

Malaysia’s education issues

Deep in the interior of Sarawak, a child rises at 5am and treks through the village before crossing a rickety bridge and boarding a boat that takes her to school. In an urban town hundreds of kilometres away, another child takes a 10-minute car ride to school, clutching his schoolbag filled with textbooks, stationeries and his lunch box.

Despite their differences, these two children live in the same country and have the same rights to accessible, quality education that teaches them literacy, numeracy and life skills.

At least nine out of 10 Malaysian adults today can read and write – a number that has risen by 33 per cent in the past 30 years, due to education policies that ensure compulsory primary education and increasing enrolment in secondary education.

Ministry of Education 2005 figures also show that more than 96 per cent of Malaysian children are enrolled in primary school, with almost 98 per cent of those who enrolled in year 2000 completing Standard Six.

However, the Government recognises the need to address gaps in access, equity and quality of education, especially among vulnerable groups of children, including children living in rural and remote areas, indigenous children and Orang Asli children.

Notably, primary school enrolment rates and learning achievements are lower in rural areas, including in Sabah and Sarawak. Other challenges relate to improving the writing, reading and arithmetic (3R) levels among students, as well as encouraging a holistic approach to education that emphasises life skills.

“UNICEF Malaysia is committed to supporting and enhancing national policies to ensure that the country attains the benchmarks set out in the national plans for Vision 2020,” Mr Youssouf affirmed.

UNICEF’s programmatic actions

UNICEF Malaysia’s programs are aligned to the framework and strategies of the Ninth Malaysia Plan, as well as Malaysia’s obligations to the international community, as enshrined in the CRC and MDGs.

“In ensuring every child’s right to education, we strive to reduce disparities and bridge the gap between urban and rural/remote groups of children,” said Mr Youssouf.

UNICEF Malaysia has piloted a remedial education program with the Ministry of Education to incorporate Orang Asli folklores and legends into teaching aids to improve reading and writing among Orang Asli children. In addition, UNICEF is providing funds and technical support to the Ministry of Education to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the Supplementary Reading Program, a grassroots program initiated in 2006 to provide supplementary educational materials to pupils in remote schools of Sabah and Sarawak.

UNICEF Malaysia is also working with the Ministries of Education and Health to scale up Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) on HIV, which provides teachers with the capacity to teach children and adolescents about HIV prevention, targeting 100 schools across Peninsula and East Malaysia.

“We view life skills-based education as an important approach to attaining positive values and promoting behaviour change among young people, particularly in the context of HIV prevention,” Mr Youssouf said.

Finally, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education and MERCY Malaysia to increase the implementation of emergency preparedness programs that target children and teachers in remote areas that are prone to natural disasters. Strategies include developing disaster preparedness guidance books, teachers’ manuals and training school counsellors in disaster relief management.

“Institutionalising emergency and disaster preparedness programs in the education system will ensure that children and teachers know how to respond when a disaster occurs, and are able to continue their schooling even during the rehabilitation and relief stages,” Mr Youssouf elaborated.

For UNICEF, education for all means more than just building schools and sending children there. “We also have to ensure that every child gets to attend child-friendly schools where they are reading and writing correctly, where they are inspired to learn, and where their opinions and views are valued, so that they can build a strong spiritual, emotional and physical foundation for life,” he said.



ABOUT International Literacy Day
International Literacy Day is observed on 8 September every year to remind the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. This annual observance provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to literacy and education, as well as to highlight the underlying factors leading to disparities in achieving universal literacy. The Day is an opportunity for all governments, NGOs and the media to demonstrate their support in keeping literacy high on national, regional and international agendas.

The following broadcast quality video news reports are available at UNICEF Malaysia:

  1. Enriching education for Malaysia’s Orang Asli children
  2. Reaching out to minority preschoolers in remote regions of Malaysia
  3. Promoting a passion for reading on remote Malaysian islands


• Indra Nadchatram
(603) 20959157 ● (6) 013 3663452 ●

• Shiao Eek, Tee
(603) 20959154 ● (6) 012 2070138 ●

• Izwina Mohd Din
(603) 20959154 ● (6) 012 2437374 ●





International Literacy Day 2008

8 September 2008
Official website
Fact sheet 

Education in a human right - Resources

  • Need for education
  • Legal frameworks
  • Action ideas


  • Literacy & education
  • UNICEF program


A Human Rights-Based Approach to Education for All, 2007. Read


UNICEF in Action (HQ)


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