International Literacy Day
The United Nations’ (UN) International Literacy Day annually falls on September 8 to raise people’s awareness of and concern for literacy issues in the world.
What Do People Do?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its partners promote the day to underline the significance of literacy for healthy societies, with a strong emphasis on epidemics and communicable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
In countries all over the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom, the day raises people’s awareness of and concern for literacy problems within their own communities. Activities such as letters to the editor in newspapers, as well as news reports about the concerns for low literacy levels, have occurred as a result of this increased awareness. Other activities include literacy day projects, particularly with regard to technology and literature, which are promoted by various organizations including reading associations.
The UN’s International Literacy Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.
According to UNESCO, about 774 million adults lack the minimum literacy skills. One in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women. About 75 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. However, literacy is also a cause for celebration on the day because there are nearly four billion literate people in the world.
The UN General Assembly proclaimed a 10-year period beginning on January 1, 2003, as the United Nations Literacy Decade. The assembly also welcomed the International Plan of Action for the Decade and decided for UNESCO to take a coordinating role in activities at an international level within the decade’s framework. On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. This day was first celebrated on September 8, 1966.
UNESCO’s banners for the event feature the words “Literacy is the best remedy”. These banners have been produced in English, French, and Spanish. UNESCO’s logo features a drawing of a temple with the “UNESCO” acronym under the roof of the temple and on top of the temple’s foundation. Underneath the temple are the words “United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization”. This logo is often used in promotional material for International Literacy Day.
September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. Celebrations take place around the world.
Some 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women; 60.7 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.
According to UNESCO’s “Global Monitoring Report on Education for All (2006)”, South and West Asia has the lowest regional adult literacy rate (58.6%), followed by sub-Saharan Africa (59.7%), and the Arab States (62.7%). Countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world are Burkina Faso (12.8%), Niger(14.4%) and Mali (19%). The report shows a clear connection between illiteracy and countries in severe poverty, and between illiteracy and prejudice against women.
Celebrations of International Literacy Day have included specific themes, in line with Education For All goals and other United Nations programs such as the United Nations Literacy Decade. The celebration’s theme for 2007 and 2008 was “Literacy and Health”, with prizes awarded to organizations at the forefront of health education. This was also the thematic emphasis of the 2007-2008 biennium of the United Nations Literacy Decade. In particular, International Literacy Day 2008 had a strong emphasis on Literacy and Epidemics with a focus on communicable diseases such as HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria, some of the world’s forefront public health concerns. For 2009-2010 the emphasis was placed on “Literacy and Empowerment”, with special consideration to Gender Equality and the empowerment of women. The theme of the 2011-2012 celebrations is “Literacy and Peace”.