International Literacy Day – Working to Achieve Global Literacy for 50 Years
By admin September 8, 2016



Today, September 8th, marks the 50th International Literacy Day. UNESCO originally proclaimed this day as International Literacy Day in order to actively mobilize the international community and promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities, and societies.

Literacy has been a focus of the international communities since the end of World War II, and, most recently, was targeted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The international community’s goal is for all youth and most adults to be both literate and numerate.

Over the past fifty years, much progress has been made to ensure most of the world is literate. In 1960 only 42 percent of the world population was considered literate, however, as of 2014, that number has increased to 85 percent.  Unfortunately, there are vast disparities in literacy rates across regions and countries. South and West Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa suffer the most with almost 85 percent of the world’s illiterate population residing in those three regions.

Being illiterate results in many social and economic challenges. A 2013 World Literacy Foundation report noted that the cost of illiteracy to the world population is approximately USD $1.9 trillion annually. This is because not having the ability to read, write, and complete basic math hinders many people from obtaining jobs that will sustain them and their families; children from illiterate households generally suffer from more malnutrition and health issues due to the parent’s inability to understand feeding instructions or afford healthy food and medical services; and, many children from these households also leave school early and do not attain high levels of education due to the lack of help or need to obtain a job to assist in supporting the family, therefore resulting in them continuing the low-income cycle. When one is literate many more doors are open for them throughout society that will enable them to reach or stay above the poverty line.

Today’s heightened focus on literacy should remind the international community and all other stakeholders of the importance of something many of us take for granted. Moreover, all international actors will need to continue to mobilize better resources for children, including textbooks in local languages, updated materials, and trained teachers, especially those from remote communities to ensure that the all of the world’s children and youth have the resources to become literate. This continued focus on mobilization will result in the world continuing to make remarkable progress to reduce the illiteracy rates and, hopefully, realize the target for SDG 4 by 2030.

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