Nerissa Cook
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
March 15, 2012

Date: 03/15/2012 Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Description: UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova (left) with IO Deputy Assistant Secretary Nerissa Cook (right) speaking to students at the University of Pennsylvania.  - State Dept ImageGreetings to Director-General Bokova, Vice Provost Emanuel, Dean Porter, Dr.Wagner, and distinguished guests. Thank you for your warm welcome. I am very honored to speak with you today.

The promotion of universal literacy, as a part of our overall educational goals, is a cornerstone of President Obama’s foreign policy objectives. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “Not only are reading and writing critical to learning all other subjects, but literacy is what enables people to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship. Literacy opens doors to better living conditions, improved health, and expanded opportunities.”

The United States firmly believes that literacy and education for all are the keys to broad-based, sustainable development around the world. The inability to read creates significant obstacles for citizens to participate fully and freely in their society. In an ever more complex and technologically-dependent world, gainful employment and access to information are often inextricably linked to one’s ability to read. Sustainable economic and social growth is not possible if we do not ensure that everyone has the basic literacy skills to succeed. Universal literacy is the first major step towards greater educational attainment for all, which in turn can lead to stronger democracy, prosperity, and freedom.

The United States applauds the critical role that UNESCO has played as a champion for literacy. Its research work and advocacy for literacy are not only creating quality schools for children, but also quality lifelong learning opportunities. This is a role that UNESCO is uniquely qualified to fill. We hope that UNESCO will continue to forge ahead as the champion for literacy and education, especially in the most remote and underdeveloped regions of the world.

We are also very encouraged by UNESCO’s expanding partnerships with our institutions of higher learning, such as the University of Pennsylvania. Our universities are engaged in some of the most innovative and fascinating learning and research on a wide range of topics, and the United States has a long and proud tradition of employing that research for the benefit humankind. Today, nearly 20 U.S. universities share their knowledge globally through the UNESCO Chairs network. It has proven to be a very effective vehicle for these universities to forge strong connections with the developing world. These connections benefit not only their partner institutions abroad, but also provide an enriching experience for our students here in the United States.

More broadly, the United States has also benefited greatly from our very active involvement in UNESCO since rejoining the organization nearly a decade ago. I would like to again welcome you, Madame Director-General, to our shores as you embark on a tour of many of our great cities. As you travel from city to city, I encourage you to take note of the many schools, universities, communities, businesses and organizations that are ready to leverage their vast capabilities to make meaningful and lasting contributions to the international community. The strong commitment to learning demonstrated by the University of Pennsylvania is but one example of the incredible depth of knowledge and expertise available in this country. We are eager to continue our active engagement in the United Nations and welcome the opportunity to expand that relationship in ways that not only benefit the UN System as a whole, but also enrich the lives of everyday Americans. Thank you.