International Literacy Day takes place on September 8 every year to raise awareness and concern for literacy problems that exist within our own local communities as well as globally. International Literacy Day was founded by proclamation of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in 1966 “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights.” International Literacy Day brings ownership of the challenges of illiteracy back home to local communities where literacy begins, one person at a time. Observe this day by utilizing resources such as Scholaroo — a platform that provides information on scholarships from around the world.
When is International Literacy Day 2024?
The importance of our basic human rights to literacy is celebrated and observed on International Literacy Day on September 8.
History of International Literacy Day
Although much progress has been made in improving literacy rates in the more than fifty years since the first International Literacy Day, illiteracy remains a global problem. There are thought to be more than 750 million adults around the world who cannot read. The scourge of Illiteracy spares no nation or culture on earth, including the United States, where an estimated 32 million American adults are illiterate.
What exactly is literacy? Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines literacy as “the quality or state of being literate: educated…able to read and write.” Because you are able to read this post and no doubt spend a lot of time reading online, it may seem incredulous to learn there are people living and working in your own community who not only cannot read this post, but are unable to read a book, a restaurant menu, a road sign, a voting ballot, an instruction manual, a prescription bottle label, or a cereal box.
Can you imagine navigating modern-day life without the basic ability to read and write? Wiping out illiteracy in every local community around the world is what International Literacy Day is all about.
International Literacy Day was first conceived at the “World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy” held in Tehran, Iran in 1965. The following year UNESCO took the lead and declared September 8 as International Literacy Day, with the primary purpose being “…to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies.” One year later, the global community accepted the challenge of ending illiteracy by participating in the first International Literacy Day.
International Literacy Day timeline
International literacy is discussed at the World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, which is held in Tehran, Iran.
UNESCO declares September 8 International Literacy Day
“…to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies.”
Governments, schools, and communities around the world participate in activities designed to focus on effective ways to end illiteracy at the local level.
The critical role of literacy is highlighted at the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are adopted by world leaders at the World Education Forum, held in Incheon, Republic of Korea.
International Literacy Day turns its focus toward the literacy skills necessary to navigate digital-mediated societies.
Traditions of the Day
Literacy is a blessing often taken for granted. Reading is essential in our daily lives. Navigating through the world without being able to read or write is challenging and is a blockade for experiencing so many things.
On International Literacy Day, organizations and individuals take charge and use their literacy to encourage and assist those who are facing difficulties on how to read and write. Students and employed people volunteer to tutor children in the community, books are generously donated to libraries, and a student’s tuition and learning are sponsored to launch their life-long success.
Institutions and government- and international organizations campaign for literacy at the grassroots level, as well as host think tanks and discussion forums to strategize and implement the best policies for the eradication of illiteracy. They also host fundraisers for the cause. A theme is set for International Literacy Day every year, which is used as a way to build awareness around specific issues.
By The Numbers
>40% – the percentage of American third-grade students who read at grade level.
75% – the percentage of children who will struggle to read their whole lives if they fall behind at age nine.
1 in 4 – the number of boys who suffer from some level of dyslexia.
1 in 5 – the number of students who suffer from learning differences.
⅓ – the fraction of America’s struggling readers who belong to college-educated families.
97% – the percentage of the literacy rate among the youth in Algeria.
90% – the percentage of the literacy rate globally for all males.
82.7% – the percentage of literacy rate globally for all females.
#1 – Andorra’s ranking in the world in terms of highest literacy.
34.7% – the percentage of illiteracy among people aged 15 and above in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2019.
International Literacy Day FAQs
What is the theme for International Literacy Day 2019?
2019’s International Literacy Day theme was Literacy and Multilingualism.
Why is International Literacy Day celebrated?
Literacy is essential for proper social and individual human development. Basic literacy skills equip individuals to transform their lives by improving their overall standard of living, and in turn improve the standard of living for whole communities.
Who is the founder of International Literacy Day?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, created International Literacy Day in 1967.
International Literacy Day Activities
Donate books to local classrooms
Elementary school classroom libraries always need fresh reading material to keep young students interested in reading. Ask your child’s teachers for a wish list of books they know students will enjoy and donate them to the class. If you don’t have a child in school, ask coworkers, relatives or neighbors about donating to their children’s classroom libraries. You will be their hero on International Literacy Day.
Gift a book
Children are naturally curious about the world around them. Reading satisfies their desire to learn and stirs the imagination. Books are much appreciated gifts for birthdays, holidays, or for no reason at all other than to say, “I was thinking about you.” And isn’t International Literacy Day the perfect day to say “I was thinking about you” by giving a book to each of the children in your life? Don’t forget that adults appreciate receiving books as gifts, too.
Start a community lending library
Gather family, friends, or neighbors together today and start a small lending library in your neighborhood. In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin started the first “Free Little Library” to make book sharing easily accessible and available anytime for people in his community. His concept of “take a book, return a book” is based on the honor system. We love that these little libraries are accessible 24/7 and there are never any late fees or fines.
Five Reasons Literacy Is Important To Everyone
Studies show that giving the brain a daily workout reading, writing and working with numbers keeps brain cells healthy as we age, reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.
The lack of literary skills limits social engagement at all age levels and prevents adults and children from being able to participate fully and contribute to the betterment of society.
Learning to read and write improves our ability to communicate effectively with others by enhancing oral language, allowing us to express our feelings, thoughts, and ideas with others more clearly.
Knowing how to read, write and work with numbers are critical skills for jobs with opportunities to advance up the social-economic ladder. Literacy breaks the cycle of poverty, one life at a time.
Knowledge is Power
Literacy is the key to personal empowerment and gives us personal dignity and self-worth.
Why We Love International Literacy Day
We’re all in this together
International Literacy Day reminds us that illiteracy exists in affluent societies, not just third world countries. It is a problem that needs to be solved and deserves our attention and participation.
We are grateful
Just thinking about how different our lives would be if we could not read or write makes us shiver. International Literacy Day gives us reason to pause and be thankful for the parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and others who invested their time to help us learn to read and write when we were young. Our literacy is a treasure for which we are grateful.
Illiteracy is a problem that can be overcome
Some problems appear to be so big and overwhelming they seem almost impossible to solve. But stopping the cycle of illiteracy is one challenge that can be solved – one child and one adult at a time. Even approaches such as the government expanding access to charter schools could help.
International Literacy Day dates