About this Campaign
It’s a huge number.
It’s the number of adults in the world who don’t know how to read or write.
That's right. Hundreds of millions can’t read.
They can’t write.
How can they live a full, productive life in our modern society?
While literacy rates are improving all over the globe, there are still millions - hundreds of millions - of our peers who can’t read this article.
They can’t read anything beyond perhaps a few rudimentary words, and many can’t even read those.
It’s almost shocking to think that in 2014 there could be so many adults who have no ability with the written word.
Just as dreadful, a full 64 percent of those without literacy skills are girls and women - a rate unchanged over the years, despite the overall improvement among both genders.
But it’s the truth. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of UNESCO and other organizations like it, the number of illiterate adults is slowly shrinking, making a more educated, independent and confident global society.
Slowly literacy rates are creeping up. But we still have a long way to go.
What is Literacy?
The traditional definition includes the most basic of skills - reading and writing. Regardless of language, the goal for centuries has been to improve the rates of basic reading skills and give more individuals access to effective communication skills through fundamental writing skills as well.
Numerical skills factor into literacy as well - knowing how to perform basic math functions and read mathematical formulas. But the three cores - reading, writing and mathematics - are not always as simple as they seem.
Taking away the actual skill set, the true motivation for literacy is to create a foundation for life-long learning, independent and overall better well-being. How this is applied to our modern lifestyles and educational outcomes has changed along with society.
The Modern Illiteracy
As we progress steadily into the 21st century, literacy proponents are continuing to push for a broader definition of literacy. After all, there is a very big difference between reading the words of school house primer and being able to read and understand the legalese of a sales contract.
Today’s goal is to promote and help individuals develop a more comprehensive sort of literacy. Today literacy is viewed not as a privilege, but as a right for all global citizens. Every person on the planet has the right to read, write, communicate, calculate and continue to learn.
Of course, the push for modern literacy includes a healthy dose of reality as well. This year’s International Literacy Day has been dedicated to “literacies for the 21st century.” This is a nod to the higher level reading and comprehension skills necessary to succeed in our knowledge-driven societies. But under the push for advanced literacy is the continued hard work to provide all of the planet’s citizens with basic literacy skills.
40 Years of Promoting Literacy
For forty years UNESCO has worked to not only bring the basic skills of literacy to the individuals who need them the most, but also to promote literacy as a common goal. The work of the global organization started in 1946 when the organization created an Education Committee. The work of the committee was to promote and bring literacy skills to everyone – regardless of their access to formal schooling options.
Over time, the Education Committee became a full program. It continues with the same purpose and drive today. The work of UNESCO has only grown broader over time, creating even deeper impacts worldwide. In 1957, UNESCO researched and then published the first literacy statistics in an attempt to highlight the abilities and rates in every country and corner of the globe.
In 1975 the organization broadened its scope. Teaching basic literacy skills had been a goal. Now, those same skills were a “contribution to the liberation of man and to his full development” This has been broadened even more in the decades to come – literacy is now universally viewed as a natural right of all men and women worldwide.
For four decades, UNESCO has called the world’s attention to the literacy rights of the international community on International Literacy Day. On September 9, UNESCO once again throws literacy into a spotlight to remind us that every man, woman and child has a right to literacy. And that literacy is the foundation for future learning and personal growth.
This year especially, the focus is even broader. While 774 million adults still lack basic literacy skills, countless more have only the basics. They lack the advanced literacy skills necessary to thrive in our modern world. In a world increasingly run by the acquisition, distribution, sharing and contributing of knowledge and information – basic reading and writing skills are simply not enough.
Every human has a right to more.
UNESCO has a plan to deliver those advanced skills to not only developing nations, but to the so many individuals in our own societies who lack more than cursory abilities.
The first step is to simply raise awareness of the challenges that still face us as a learned society.
We must continue to push and do more for those among us who are still growing. Those who are still building a foundation of literacy.
And once that foundation is in place, it is a global responsibility to strive for more. To build and improve on those basics to create a broader understanding and use of literacy in our modern world.
Knowing how to read and write was once considered a feat for the wealthy and the scholars.
Today those skills are a right of all people everywhere.
Help spread the word.
Ready to get involved and do more to help?
Read more about International Literacy Day on the UNESCO website.
Learn more about what constitutes modern literacy.
Try one of these International Literacy Day activities or create your own!
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