Monday, 08 September 2014 03:00

International Literacy Day 2014: Literacy and Sustainable Development

Baghdad, 8 September 2014; International Literacy Day 2014 is celebrated worldwide on 8 September under the theme Literacy and Sustainable Development. The Day is “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. 


Governments, international organizations, NGOs, and local communities around the world are organizing activities to mark the importance of literacy for the development of their communities, while emphasizing the efforts needed to guarantee that all boys, girls, men and women have access to 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, 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.

However, 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.

In Iraq, UNESCO launched the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) project in 2010, achieving key components since. Following the approval of the new literacy Law in September 2011, a national literacy strategy has been endorsed by the Ministry of Education in cooperation with UNESCO, and a National Literacy Agency for Iraq has been established with 3000 staff. Additionally, more than 250 NGOs members came together to create the “Literacy Network for Iraq”, a strong partnership working towards eradicating illiteracy, through knowledge and experience sharing, and wide reaching implementation of literacy and life skills courses.

800,000 Iraqis benefited from this initiative, with another 500,000 expected to enrol in more than 5,000 literacy centres around the country during the new scholastic year. Under the same project, 20,000 teachers and facilitators will be trained on the best modules of adult education, while a total of 135 community learning centres were opened by UNESCO and delivered for the Iraqi government to ensure the delivery of quality literacy for all. By the conclusion of this pioneering initiative, UNESCO and the Iraqi government hope to cut down illiteracy rate by 50% in less than five years, and would have succeeded in establishing the human and institutional infrastructure essential to totally eradicate literacy in Iraq in the nearest future. 

“Literacy is a primary factor for human development as it brings self-esteem and empowerment. It paves the way to full participation in society and to economic growth” stated Axel Plathe, Director of UNESCO Office for Iraq. “UNESCO praises the Iraqi government’s commitment in fighting illiteracy, and in this special occasion, UNESCO reconfirms its own full commitment to support Iraq in this mission”, added Plathe.   

In 2014, 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”.


For more information about International Literacy Day 

Please visit our special webpage

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

Additional Info

  • Agency: UNESCO

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