The World Lights up for Int’l Literacy Day

UNESCO raises awareness for the importance of literacy to sustainable development.

On September 8th, communities from all corners of the world celebrated UNESCO’s International Literacy Day. The theme of this year’s celebration was “Literacy and Sustainable Development.” UNESCO started International Literacy Day in 1965 to raise awareness of the importance of literacy in achieving a more just world, and the effects are two fold: activities around the world highlight the joy of literacy, while the international media takes the day to reflect on the state of education and remind us that an estimated 67 million children worldwide lack access to primary school education and 175 million adolescents unable to read a sentence.

“Literacy facilitates access to knowledge and triggers a process of empowerment and self-esteem that benefits everyone,” UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova said in a message for the Day. “Literacy helps reduce poverty and enables people to find jobs and obtain higher salaries. It is one of the most efficient ways of improving the health of mothers and children, understanding doctors’ prescriptions and gaining access to healthcare.”

“We must invest more,” remarked Bokova. “I appeal to every Member State and all our partners to redouble efforts – political and financial – to ensure that literacy is fully recognized as one of the most powerful accelerators of sustainable development. The future we want starts with the alphabet.”

The most publicized celebration took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh where the government together with UNESCO held the International Conference on “Girls’ and women’s literacy and education: Foundations for sustainable development and the awarding of UNESCO Literacy Prizes” in support for the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

UNESCO regional offices sponsored other notable global celebrations. In Kathmandu, the Tilaurakot Community Learning Centre launched a Reading and writing competition for neoliterates in the Awadhi language. The Cuban celebration honored Raúl Ferrer for his role the Gran Campaña that virtually eradicated illiteracy on the island  in the 1960's. The Ministry of Education in Rwanda decided to extend the day into International Literacy Week, with activities directed to particular demographics, such as school children, out-of-school youth and adults, to foster a reading culture. In South Sudan, teachers could submit their students’ essays for consideration in a writing contest based on UNESCO's prompt, “What does literacy mean to you, your community and South Sudan?” Submissions were encouraged in all local languages, Arabic and English. All participating institutions were also prioritized for receiving UNESCO’s Mobile Little Libraries to further promote enthusiasm for literacy and increase access to materials. In Grand Rapids, Michigan the Literacy Center of West Michigan’s employees snapped literary selfies to promote reading.

One way for teachers everywhere to celebrate the transformative power of literacy is to join over 9,000 educators in the International Reading Association’s 60-for-60 Mission, which calls upon classes to dedicate an extra 60 seconds to literacy activities every day for 60 days. Teachers can share photos, videos and stories via social media using the hashtag #ILD14.

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