UNESCO marks 50th International Literacy Day

Friday 8th September is the 50th International Literacy Day, with the theme of ‘literacy in a digital world’.

A global celebration of the day will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, with the overall aim to “look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate increasingly digitally-mediated societies, and to explore effective literacy policies and programmes that can leverage the opportunities that the digital world provides.” The event also celebrates the 2030 Education Agenda by which the international community has pledged to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

This year’s event will bring together stakeholders and decision-makers from different parts of the world to examine how digital technology can help close the literacy gap and gain better understanding of the skills needed in today’s societies. This is particularly important considering that 750 million illiterate people around the world, 63% of whom are women, still lack basic reading and writing skills. This population includes 102 million young people (aged 15-24), of whom 57% are female, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

“Digital technologies permeate all spheres of our lives, fundamentally shaping how we live, work, learn and socialise,” says UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, emphasising the importance of rethinking and improving skills required to take part in the digital world: “These new technologies are opening vast new opportunities to improve our lives and connect globally—but they can also marginalise those who lack the essential skills, like literacy, needed to navigate them.”

The international conference aims to reflect on what it means to be literate in increasingly digitally-mediated societies, and to explore effective policies and programmes for literacy skills development in a digital world. Education is UNESCO’s top priority because it is a basic human right and the foundation on which to build peace and drive sustainable development. The Global Education 2030 Agenda aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education, in this introduction to UNESCO’s fifty-year review of ILD, remarked that “the wider adult population has not benefited to the same extent in some regions. It is a troubling fact that there are now more adults without literacy compared with fifty years ago, meaning that our efforts have not kept pace with population growth.” With 578 million people estimated worldwide to be illiterate, the challenge is now greater than ever.

Find out more abut UNESCO’s global literacy efforts.

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