Literacy for all ‘must stand at the heart’ of new sustainable development agenda – UNESCO chief

A young girl studies during class break. With rapid growth, the Government of Mongolia introduced a number of programs to improve the country’s education system, especially rural primary education. Photo: Khasar Sandag/World Bank

8 September 2015 – Urging governments and partners to join forces for universal literacy as a key component of “the future we want,” the United Nations is emphasizing that literacy is essential to reach the newly-proposed Sustainable Development Goal on promoting inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

This is the message of International Literacy Day 2015. The Day is celebrated every year on 8 September to “raise the flag for literacy as a human right, as a force for dignity, and as a foundation for cohesive societies and sustainable development,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In her remarks on the Day, Ms. Bokova said: “this message is especially vital this year, when States will adopt a new agenda for education and development to guide the next 15 years.”

“Promoting literacy must stand at the heart of this new agenda,” she said. “By empowering individual women and men, literacy helps to advance sustainable development across the board – from better healthcare and food security to eradicating poverty and promoting decent work.”

There has been progress across the world since 2000, Ms. Bokova said, “but steep challenges remain.”

“Today, 757 million adults still lack basic literacy skills – two thirds are women,” she said, and the number of out-of-school children and adolescents is on the rise, standing at 124 million worldwide – while some 250 million children of primary school age are failing to master basic literacy skills even in schooling.

“We cannot allow this to continue,” the UNESCO chief said.

With 17 days to go before the UN Sustainable Development Summit, she said literacy is essential to reach the proposed sustainable development goal to promote “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.”

In his message on the Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed that literacy, a human right that empowers individuals and advances societies, is needed more than ever as the United Nations prepares to adopt a new global agenda for sustainable development.

Agenda 2030 is ambitious and transformative, aiming to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and preserve our planet,” said the UN chief, adding that its adoption by world leaders later this month offers an opportunity to recommit to promoting literacy as part of our collective push for a life of dignity for all.

Echoing Ms. Bokova, he said that more than 750 million adults in our world are illiterate. “All of these people, whatever their age, deserve the chance to learn to read. When we give them that opportunity, we will create more productive, stable and secure societies for all.”

The main global celebration for the International Day is taking place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, where a two-day event on Literacy and Sustainable Societies (8-9 September 2015) will be organized to prepare the ground for renewed literacy efforts by countries and partners. On 8 September, a ceremony will be held to award the 2015 UNESCO International Literacy Prizes.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

On World Book Day, UN hails reading and writing as pillars of sustainable societies

Related Stories

In-depth Interviews