Three Ladies of Literacy in the Asia Pacific Region

Three Ladies of Literacy in the Asia Pacific Region

By Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education (Ret.)

During the period from 2001 through 2003 I had the privilege of working with three women from the Asia Pacific region of the world who were distinguished by their commitment to and work for adult literacy and language development. 

Thailand - Namtip Aksornkool

For many years Namtip Aksornkool, from Thailand, was a senior specialist in literacy and women’s education with UNESCO. She served for a number of years as the lead coordinator for UNESCO’s International Literacy Day. In this latter capacity I worked with Namtip while I served on UNESCO’s International Literacy Prize Jury selecting the winners of UNESCO‘s annual literacy prizes. Through her work, Namtip helped to focus literacy efforts in many nations on women’s educational needs.  In a report entitled, “On the Ground: Adventures of Literacy Workers” (2002) she makes the point that  “Literacy workers must be prepared to travel by all modes of transport – helicopters, trains, jeeps, four wheelers, horses, camels, mules , elephants, and, yes even by a human being!” Namtip herself made many missions to programs by these various means of travel. In “On the Ground” she states, “Authorities  always stipulate , often in official policy papers, how important women’s empowerment is to their country’s development. Yet experience shows that they rarely act on their work – to their own economic detriment.” With this sort of straightforward commentary, unusual for a UNESCO operative, Namtip Aksornkool achieved many important literacy outcomes for women and girls around the world. 

New Zealand - Liz Moore 

I first met Liz Moore in January of 2001 in Hertfordshire, England, at a meeting for the U.K.’s Skills for Life Strategy. I learned that in the early 1990s, Liz had founded Workbase, an organization in New Zealand doing innovative work in workplace literacy education. In 2000, Liz had prepared a report entitled “Blueprint for Literacy” which became a major contributor to New Zealand’s Ministry of Education's Adult Literacy Strategy, outlined in a report called 'More than Words'. Later, in July of 2001, UNESCO’s International Literacy Prize Jury awarded a major literacy prize to Workbase for raising the literacy skills of the New Zealand workforce, in particular socially excluded and minority groups. In the late Fall of 2001, Liz invited me to visit Workplace in Auckland, NZ to speak at a National Meeting On Workplace Literacy. Sadly at that time Liz was suffering from a form of cancer that shortly thereafter took her life. Writing in 2009, Judith “Jude” Walker of the University of British Columbia said,” The late Liz Moore, …was mentioned by many respondents as having helped bring the focus of adult literacy, and workplace literacy in particular, to the government’s attention.” To this day Workbase, Liz’s creative organization for adult literacy education in New Zealand, continues to carry on the work she started in the early 1990s.

Saipan - Fe Calixterio

In December of 2003 I traveled to Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, to spend a week providing workshops for adult basic skills educators. I was there at the invitation of Fe Calixterio, long time Director of Adult Basic Education at Northern Marianas College in Saipan. Three years earlier, the Saipan Tribune ran an article about problems of illiteracy and functional illiteracy in Saipan and reported that Fe, originally from the Philippines, advocated strongly for adult basic education for the more than 11,000 adults in Saipan identified in the 1995 census as having  failed to go beyond the 5th or 8th grades of school or dropped out of school without getting a high school diploma. Fe was working hard to implement the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 which funded programs integrating ABE with work-related education and training. I was invited to provide workshops teaching reading with adults in functional context education programs which followed this integrated approach. Later, in her retirement years, Fe continued her work in workforce adult education teaching English language to Filipino workers in Saipan. In an interview she reported that “Teaching is a rewarding experience." She added that it is her way of giving back to the community. A message that resonates with many adult literacy educators around the world. 

In the words of Fe Calixterio, “Teaching is a rewarding experience.” And thanks to the work of hundreds of thousands of teachers, millions of adults find that, “Learning literacy is a rewarding experience.” 

We celebrate the work of these three ladies of literacy, and their thousands of world compatriots who light the lamp of literacy for adults and their families all around the globe. 

Aksornkool, N. (Ed.), (2002). On the Ground: Adventures of Literacy Workers. Education Sector, UNESCO. (Available online at:


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