Literacies for the 21st Century

Literacy is a right and a foundation for lifelong learning, better well-being and livelihoods. As such it is a driver for sustainable and inclusive development.  

Over the years, the notion of  literacy has evolved. The conventional concept limited to reading, writing and numeracy skills is still in wide use, as well as the notion of functional literacy which links literacy with socio-economic development. But other ways of understanding “literacy” or “literacies” have emerged to address the diverse learning needs  of individuals in knowledge-oriented and globalized societies.

Why do people need literacy skills? How is literacy shaped by culture, history, language, religion and socio-economic conditions? What are the impacts of technological advancement on literacy? Is it possible to determine in a diverse world a minimum set of basic literacy skills?

This year’s International Literacy Day is dedicated to “literacies for the 21st century” to highlight the need to realize “basic literacy skills for all” as well as equip everyone with more advanced literacy skills as part of lifelong learning.

  Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future and the first step towards all the new forms of literacy required in the twenty-first century. We wish to see a century where every child is able to read and to use this skill to gain autonomy.    

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General

About the Day

For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning. 


Why is Literacy important?

Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.

Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. There are good reasons why literacy is at the core of Education for All (EFA).

A good quality basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development.


International Literacy Day Poster
  EN | FR SP


Starting from 2003, when UNESCO took the lead of the the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012), and going back to 1946, when UNESCO first established a committee to promote ‘Fundamental Education’, review the major milestones on the road to Literacy for All. More


    • Colloquium "Literacies for the 21st Century" 
      UNESCO, Paris, 9-10 September 2013   Agenda
    • 2013 UNESCO Literacy Prizewinners ceremony 
      UNESCO, Paris, 9 September 2013 Agenda
    • Panel sessions on "Promising pathways to a literate world"
      UNESCO, Paris, 10 September 2013 Agenda





UNESCO Brochure