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International Literacy Day 2015 is being celebrated all around the world today. UNESCO designated September 8th for this vital day, first observed in 1966. The theme for 2015 is “Literacy and Sustainable Societies” and explores how literacy reinforces sustainable development — through economic growth, social development, and environmental protection. The organization stresses that “Literacy skills are the prerequisite for the learning of a broader set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, required for creating sustainable societies,” a tenet central to my own core beliefs.

In her message for the Day, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova describes literacy “as a human right, as a force for dignity, and as a foundation for cohesive societies and sustainable development.” She describes how ever-expanding communication options, such as the Internet and text messaging, increase literacy prospects and the exchange of knowledge.

New technologies, including mobile telephones, also offer fresh opportunities for literacy for all. We must invest more, and I appeal to all Members States and all our partners to redouble our efforts — political and financial — to ensure that literacy is fully recognized as one of the most powerful accelerators of sustainable development. The future starts with the alphabet.   

Ms Bokova adds that literacy is essential to promote “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.”

A striking infographic at the UNESCO website illustrates the considerable effort yet required to attain the vision of a literate world for all. The literacy facts include:

  • 15% of the current world’s population is illiterate.
  • 115 million youth, ages 15–24, are illiterate; 59 percent of those are girls
  • 1 of 5 adolescents and 1 of 5 adults in Europe lack the literacy skills to read the instructions on a medicine bottle — a sobering thought.
  • Rural farmers are often unable to read and understand agriculture information, leading to misuse of pesticides which can harm both people and the environment.

On the bright side, every year UNESCO awards International Literacy Prizes for excellence and innovation in literacy. This year’s winners and their inspiring stories from places as diverse as Chile, Madagascar, Mozambique, Slovakia, and Sri Lanka can be viewed here.

Like Questar, UNESCO recognizes the importance of assessment and evaluation to help ensure that efforts to increase literacy are successful. They work to create systems that define, monitor and evaluate literacy levels at both the national and international level. Both global literacy levels and the effectiveness of literacy programs are considered, but the lack of reliable and comparable cross-national data on the state of literacy presents a major challenge. None-the-less, because the impact of increased literacy on both individuals and their societies is so important to measure, UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning periodically produces a Global Report of Adult Learning and Education.

In the spirit of lifelong learning and in celebration of International Literacy Day, we encourage you and yours to READ a new or a favorite book tonight — together, if feasible!

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 

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Find more literacy facts from UNESCO here.