Woman points with a ruler at a black board displaying letters of the alphabet.
One of three adult literacy classrooms in Gao, Mali constructed and equipped by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Photo:UN Photo/Harandane Dicko

Literacy for a human-centred recovery
Narrowing the digital divide

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the learning of children, young people and adults at an unprecedented scale. It has also magnified the pre-existing inequalities in access to meaningful literacy learning opportunities, disproportionally affecting 773 million non-literate young people and adults. Youth and adult literacy were absent in many initial national response plans, while numerous literacy programmes have been forced to halt their usual modes of operation.

Even in the times of global crisis, efforts have been made to find alternative ways to ensure the continuity of learning, including distance learning, often in combination with in-person learning. Access to literacy learning opportunities, however, has not been evenly distributed. The rapid shift to distance learning also highlighted the persistent digital divide in terms of connectivity, infrastructure, and the ability to engage with technology, as well as disparities in other services such as access to electricity, which has limited learning options.

The pandemic, however, was a reminder of the critical importance of literacy. Beyond its intrinsic importance as part of the right to education, literacy empowers individuals and improves their lives by expanding their capabilities to choose a kind of life they can value. It is also a driver for sustainable development. Literacy is an integral part of education and lifelong learning premised on humanism as defined by the Sustainable Development Goal 4. Literacy, therefore, is central to a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

International Literacy Day (ILD) 2021 will explore how literacy can contribute to building a solid foundation for a human-centred recovery, with a special focus on the interplay of literacy and digital skills required by non-literate youth and adults. It will also explore what makes technology-enabled literacy learning inclusive and meaningful to leave no one behind. By doing so, ILD2021 will be an opportunity to reimagine future literacy teaching and learning, within and beyond the context of the pandemic.

10 targets for education… with Elyx!

Ensuring that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy is one of the ten targets for SDG 4: Education. Join Elyx, the UN's first digital ambassador, to discover how to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

UNESCO International Literacy Prizes

Since 1967, UNESCO International Literacy Prizes have rewarded excellence and innovation in the field of literacy. Over 500 projects and programmes undertaken by governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals around the world have been recognized. Through these prestigious Prizes, UNESCO seeks to support effective literacy practices and encourages the promotion of dynamic literate societies.

Each year the prizes are announced on 7 September.

Background

The 8th of September was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO in 1966 to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies. The issue of literacy is a key component of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN's Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by world leaders in September 2015, promotes universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives. Sustainable Development Goal 4 has as one of its targets ensuring all young people achieve literacy and numeracy and that adults, who lack these skills are given the opportunity to acquire them.

UNESCO International Literacy Prizes

 

illustration of theme of ILD 2021

 

#LiteracyDay celebrations at UNESCO

8-9 September 2021

Did you know?

  • 773 million adults and young people lack basic literacy skills;
  • 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics;
  • During the initial phase of the pandemic, schools were closed disrupting the education of 62.3 per cent of the world’s student population of 1.09 billion;
  • Adult literacy and education were absent in initial education response plans, therefore many youth and adults with no or low literacy skills have had limited access to life-saving information.

Source: UNCESCO 2020

Resources

Related Websites

Documents

Women sit in a circle outdoors under a tree as a man dictates class.

Chad’s education sector faces many challenges. UNESCO figures show that only 31% of men are literate, while only 14% of women can read and write. UNESCO supports the government in prioritizing improving learners’ literacy skills, preparing populations for the job market, consolidating synergies between literacy and vocational training, and supporting self-employed women and youth.

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The new five-year UNESCO Strategy for Youth and Adult Literacy (2020-2025) has four strategic priority areas:

  • Developing national literacy policies and strategies;
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illustration of people with clock, calendar, to-do list and decorations

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.