International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day 2011Literacy is often taken for granted by people around the world. Sitting in my office, I look around at all of my colleagues: well-educated, hard-working, dedicated and literate. We publish books that contain a wealth of knowledge and with that knowledge, power – not for us, the publisher, but for the reader, the student, the teacher, the parent.

According to UNESCO, one in five adults is illiterate (approximately two-thirds of those are women) and 67.4 million children are not in school worldwide. Some 793 million adults lack reading skills. That’s 793 million.

This is not a majority world problem either. Simple comprehension and basic math skills are lacking in western countries as well. The U.S. Department of Education concludes that some 44 million Americans cannot do simple math or read and comprehend the information contained in an average newspaper. Yesterday, the London Evening Standard reported that more than half of London bosses say too many graduates looking for work can’t spell or add up properly.

This growing international problem is being tackled by UNESCO with its Writers for Literacy Intiative and the World Book Capital (one of the requirements for the WBC is the promise to promote reading and literacy). Supporters of International Literacy Day (8 September) include the Global Development Research Center, National Literacy TrustMontblanc, the National Institute for Literacy and Rotary International. This year’s International Literacy Day will focus on the link between literacy and peace.
Although groups such as UNESCO and the National Institute for Literacy are tackling illiteracy and bringing awareness to this global problem, there is still a lot of work that can be done on a local level. Reading Aloud groups who work in various companies, schools and prisons place emphasis on showing children and adults the joy of reading and helping them with comprehension. The Oxford World Book Capital bid plans to tackle this issue in Oxfordshire and beyond, ideally creating programs that will last past the year 2014.

Today, UNESCO will award will award the international Confucius and King Sejong literacy prizes to projects in Burundi, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the United States of America during a ceremony in New Delhi, India.

UNESCO’s E-9 Initiative will also support an international conference on Women’s Literacy for Inclusive and Sustainable Development from 8 to 10 September. The E-9 focuses on nine high-population countries that are home to more than two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterate population and more than half the planet’s out-of-school children. These are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan.

“The world urgently needs increased political commitment to literacy backed by adequate resources to scale up effective programs. Today I urge governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to make literacy a policy priority, so that every individual can develop their potential, and actively participate in shaping more sustainable, just and peaceful societies,” declared UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement released today.

What can you do to help? Read a book to a child, volunteer for educational programs, create an event around literacy or donate to any of the organisations mentioned above. It’s time we all take a stand for literacy and realise how big a problem it really is.


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