International Literacy Day 2014: Literacy and Sustainable Development

© Centro de Educacion Permanente ‘Poligono Sur’ de Desarrollo ComunitaLifelong Learning School for Community Development Poligono Sur (Spain) for its ‘Networking as an Educational Project’

International Literacy Day 2014 will be celebrated worldwide on 8 September under the theme Literacy and Sustainable Development. The Day will be “an opportunity to remember a simple truth: literacy not only changes lives, it saves them,” explains the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in her message for the Day.

Literacy Day will start with the award ceremony in Dhaka for this year’s five UNESCO Literacy Prizes, attended by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, and the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

It will continue with the International Conference Girls’ and Women’s Literacy Education: Foundation for Sustainable Development, organized by the Government of Bangladesh and UNESCO, and opened by the Prime Minister and Director-General. The conference takes place within the framework of the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) whose Champion Countries* are expected to have high level representatives at the Conference.

Representatives from several United Nations organizations will also take part in the conference alongside donors, including international financial institutions, national and international non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

They will draw the world’s attention to the importance of girls’ and women’s literacy and education for sustainable development, contributing to the new international development goals that will come into effect in 2015. Almost two-thirds of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults are women, with no progress in reducing this share since 1990.

In a number of sessions, participants will reflect on girls’ and women’s education and literacy as conditions for lifelong learning and sustainable development, drawing on experiences from Bangladesh and around the world, as well as the findings of the 2013/14 Education For All Global Monitoring Report (GMR). Evidence from the report shows, for example, that if all women had a primary education, child mortality could fall by a sixth and maternal deaths by two-thirds. Child marriages would fall by 14% if all girls in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia had primary education, and by 64% with secondary education. 

Poor quality education is leaving a legacy of illiteracy more widespread than previously believed: one in four young people—175 million adolescents—is unable to read a single sentence. Based on current trends, the GMR projects that it will take until 2072 for the poorest young women in developing countries to learn to read.

But even in high-income countries, education systems are failing significant minorities. In New Zealand, almost all students from rich households achieve minimum learning standards in grades 4 and 8, but only two-thirds of poor students do. Many immigrants in rich countries are also left behind: in France, for example, fewer than 60 per cent of immigrants have reached the minimum benchmark for reading.

Despite slow global progress in reducing the number of illiterate adults, there are examples of success. In Bangladesh, women’s literacy more than doubled from 1990 to 2011. In Ethiopia, the number of literate young people increased by nearly 20 per cent between 2000 and 2011.

This year’s activities focus on the links between literacy and sustainable development. They underscore the power of literacy to enable people to make choices that promote economic growth, social development and environmental integration. Literacy is the basis for lifelong learning and plays a crucial role in the creation of sustainable, prosperous and peaceful societies.

 “We must invest more,” states the Director-General of UNESCO. “I appeal to every Member State and all our partners to redouble efforts – political and financial – to ensure that literacy is fully recognized as one of the most powerful accelerators of sustainable development.”


Events marking Literacy Day will be held in many countries around the world. See our webpage

For more information about countries’ progress towards achieving EFA objectives, see UNESCO’s annual Education for All Monitoring Report

* Andorra, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, China, Croatia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Guyana, Mozambique, South Africa, Tunisia, and the United States of America

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