International Literacy Day

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International Literacy Day: 8 September 2019

The International Communication Project (ICP) is a strong supporter of the UNESCO International Literacy Day. The ICP promotes International Literacy Day because literacy is a basic human right.

September 8 was declared International Literacy Day by UNESCO in 1965. The aim of the day is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.

In 2019, International Literacy Day will focus on ‘Literacy and Multilingualism’. The focus coincides with 2019 being the UN International Year of Indigenous Language.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in September 2015, promotes, as part of its agenda, universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives. Sustainable Development Goal 4 has as one of its targets ensuring all young people achieve literacy and numeracy and that adults who lack these skills are given the opportunity to acquire them.


What is the scale of literacy in the world?

Around 800 million adults — two-thirds of whom are women — are adults lack minimum literacy skills. Over sixty million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. The UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on Education for All (2006) the lowest levels of adult literacy are in South and West Asia (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%).

View the UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy.

Literacy — is there hope?

According to UNESCO, “Illiteracy and poverty constitute a mutually reinforcing vicious cycle that is difficult to break”. That is because illiteracy reinforces poverty and denies people access to information, knowledge and data. For example, if a person cannot read a technical manuals they cannot develop the skills needed to advance up the socioeconomic ladder.

While large parts of the world’s population remain illiterate there is hope for the future. Five developing countries are making huge strides in improving youth literacy in countries.

Read about five countries with increasing youth literacy rates.

Why is literacy important?

Learning to read and write is a crucial part of a child’s development. Reading and writing are essential skills for adults. Being literate means that people can understand and follow written instructions, find out information online or in books, write letters and emails, and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture. It also means that a child or adult is able to participate fully in their community.

Successful literacy development is founded on language skills. Literacy development, in turn, enhances and extends oral language abilities across the lifespan. Most speech language pathology/therapy organisations around the globe are unified in the role that speech pathologists/therapists have in the area of literacy. This is driven by the intimate relationship between acquiring oral language and communication, and learning to become literate.

See how a literacy programme in Somalia changed the life of a teenage girl.

Why is reading so important?

Reading is a crucial part of a child’s development and an essential skill for adults. In developed countries, up to ninety per cent of preschool age children with delayed language development are later diagnosed with a reading disorder. And up to 30 per cent of children with speech disorders also have a reading disability. Illiteracy only makes this problem greater. Research shows that reading for pleasure makes a big difference to children’s educational performance. Learning to read is not only about listening and understanding what is on the printed page, but through hearing stories, children are exposed to a wide range of words. This helps them build their own vocabulary and improve their understanding when they listen, which is vital as they start to read. Parents and families can make a huge difference. Parents are the most important educators in a child’s life – even more important than their teachers – and it is never too early to start reading together.

Read about how a family learning approach has boosted literacy, numeracy and language skills in Mozambique.

How many teachers are needed?

According to UNESCO projections, about 69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. That’s 24.4 million primary school teachers and 44.4 million secondary school teachers. The quality of education and, therefore literacy, ultimately depends on teachers. It is why increasing the recruitment and training of teachers is just so important. And the need is urgent, with an estimated 263 million children and youth still out of primary and secondary school globally.

Read more: The world needs almost 69 million new teachers to reach the 2030 education goals.

Gender bias and literacy

Despite tremendous progress over the past 20 years, girls are still more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom. While girls are closing the gender gap in out-of-school rates at global level, inequalities persist. According to UNESCO estimates, 41 per cent or 25 million of all out-of-school children of primary school age have never attended school and will probably never start if current trends continue. Globally, 263 million children, adolescents and youth between the ages of 6 and 17 are currently out of school, according to a UNESCO statistics.

Get information about global literacy rates and illiterate population of adults and youth (2014).

What can you do on International Literacy Day?

Communication is a basic human right. An important part of communication is literacy. That’s why we urge you to sign The Universal Declaration of Communication Rights. By signing the pledge you help bring attention to persons with communication disorders and the professional care that can help them. And to assist you we will keep you up-to-date with information about what’s being done by the ICP and others to ensure that communication is a basic human right. It is why the ICP supports International Literacy Day on 8 September.

Sign the ICP pledge today! And subscribe to the ICP newsletter.