In developed countries, it’s easy to forget that learning to read and write is a privilege. 

Internationally, 750 million people lack basic literacy skills, and out of this number, 250 million are children. 

Two hundred and fifty million children worldwide. 

According to international reports, there is a clear and significant direct connection between illiteracy and extreme poverty. 

It is self-evident that the ability to read and write is absolutely critical to succeeding in education and employment, but it goes even further. Participating in democratic processes. Keeping safe by reading notices and warnings. Scrutinising documents and contracts. Communicating across the world via technology. And then there’s access to literature – part of the shared cultural heritage of humankind. In short, literacy education is a form of empowerment. 

So many of us encounter literacy in so many aspects of our day to day lives, it’s easy to take it for granted. 

That’s why in 1967, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) founded International Literacy Day. 

History and Goals of International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day is held on the 8th of September every year and is aimed at raising public awareness, engaging political will, and promoting universal access to education. 

The establishment of International Literacy Day in the 1960s showed a huge change – literacy was no longer considered a goal in of itself, but a catalyst for development in terms of global poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. 

Since then, it has grown significantly, as more and more countries around the world have joined the effort to promote and celebrate literacy. Each year has also been focussed around a particular theme, ranging from ‘literacy and the digital world’ to ‘literacy and the environment.’ The most recent, in 2019, was ‘literacy and multiculturalism’ which was highly successful in promoting and celebrating international cultural diversity.

Events and activities

Through UNESCO, national governments, and non-governmental partners, there are thousands of events held around the world to raise the profile of literacy in our global society. 

International Literacy Day also seeks to promote the work of the World Literacy Foundation, which runs literacy projects year-round, ranging from distributing solar-powered e-readers in sub-Saharan Africa to forming partnerships with impoverished indigenous communities in Australia and providing parental literacy mentoring and tutoring in the UK. The organisation also runs events in schools, universities, and in communities on International Literacy Day to promote the importance of reading and writing. 

Individual members of the public can contribute in myriad ways. This might include working as storytelling volunteers in local libraries, writing blogs and social media posts, volunteering to lead book donation drives, or working in leadership roles as ambassadors.

So write it in your calendars, September 8th is International Literacy Day – promoting the empowering, transformative potential of reading and writing in our global community. 

For more information, or to get involved, visit www.worldliteracyfoundation.org 

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