50th anniversary celebrations of International Literacy Day 2016 launched

© UNESCO/Ignacio Marin

Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova launched the 50th International Literacy Day at the Organization’s Paris Headquarters on September 8, 2016 with a reminder of literacy’s power to realise the goals of the new global agenda. 

Worldwide there are 758 million adults who cannot read or write a simple sentence, two thirds of them women and with the greatest bottlenecks to progress in Africa (UNESCO Institute for Statistics).

The two-day anniversary event titled Reading the Past, Writing the Future, which marks the first celebration within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, will review achievements and lessons learned over the last half century and identify challenges and fresh solutions.

Speaking at the ceremony Ms Bokova said: “Literacy is essential for the success of the new global agenda. It provides men and women with skills to shape the world according to their dreams and aspirations. In a world under pressure, literacy is a source of dignity and rights. In a world changing quickly, literacy is the foundation for inclusive and resilient societies. Literacy is a transformational force, to combat poverty, to advance gender equality, to improve family health, to protect the environment, to promote democratic participation.”

She said that considerable efforts by countries with partners had raised the global adult literacy rate from 61 per cent in 1960 to 85 per cent in 2015 and that global youth literacy had reached an encouraging 90 per cent in 2014 but much work remained to be done.

Special guest HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development, spoke passionately of the human and financial cost of illiteracy and the huge challenges for the future.

“What is the question that keeps me awake at night? I share a sense of joy at learners’ local successes yet a sense of frustration that, despite all these efforts, we haven’t been able to ensure literacy rates do not drop but rather rise. Why is this not possible? The only answer I have is that it is not high enough up on the political agenda. Politicians do not see the enormous economic cost of illiteracy.

“We need to break through conventional thinking and be disruptive and self-reflective about what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. We have to get out of our own bubble. That is the challenge.”

The launch was followed by a ministerial panel, Sharing experience about policies and strategies within the 2030 vision of literacy, chaired by Mr David Atchoarena, director, Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, UNESCO and with the participation of H.E. Ms Kandia Camara, Minister of National Education and Technical Education, Côte d’Ivoire, H.E. Ms Ena Elsa Velazquez Cobiella, Minister of Education, Cuba, H.E. Mr Serigne Mbaye Thiam, Minister of Education, Senegal and H.E. Mr Upendra Kishwaha, Minister of State for Human Resource Development (School Education and Literacy) India. They discussed policies, practices and challenges with regarding to achieving the 2030 vision in their regions.

On the same day Ms Bokova awarded five winners of UNESCO’s 2016 literacy prizes from India, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand and Viet Nam with the King Sejong Literacy Prize, which is sponsored by the Government of the Republic of Korea and The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy—supported by the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

Celebrations also included the launch of the Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III and the Global Alliance for Literacy, a cross-sector partnership to help UNESCO Member States boost progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4.

International Literacy Day was proclaimed by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1966, on recommendation of the 1965 World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, held in Teheran, Islamic Republic of Iran.

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