International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day - Sunday, September 8, 2024

Cause Activities Awareness Educational Writing

International Literacy Day takes place on September 8 every year to raise awareness and concern for literacy problems that exist within our own local communities as well as globally. International Literacy Day was founded by proclamation of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in 1966 “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights.” International Literacy Day brings ownership of the challenges of illiteracy back home to local communities where literacy begins, one person at a time.

History of International Literacy Day

Although much progress has been made in improving literacy rates in the more than fifty years since the first International Literacy Day, illiteracy remains a global problem. There are thought to be more than 750 million adults around the world who cannot read. The scourge of Illiteracy spares no nation or culture on earth, including the United States, where an estimated 32 million American adults are illiterate.

What exactly is literacy? Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines literacy as “the quality or state of being literate: educated…able to read and write.” Because you are able to read this post and no doubt spend a lot of time reading online, it may seem incredulous to learn there are people living and working in your own community who not only cannot read this post, but are unable to read a book, a restaurant menu, a road sign, a voting ballot, an instruction manual, a prescription bottle label, or a cereal box.

Can you imagine navigating modern-day life without the basic ability to read and write? Wiping out illiteracy in every local community around the world is what International Literacy Day is all about.

International Literacy Day was first conceived at the “World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy” held in Tehran, Iran in 1965.  The following year UNESCO took the lead and declared September 8 as International Literacy Day, with the primary purpose being “…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.” One year later, the global community accepted the challenge of ending illiteracy by participating in the first International Literacy Day.

International Literacy Day timeline


Literacy in a digital world

International Literacy Day turns its focus toward the literacy skills necessary to navigate digital-mediated societies.


The Incheon Declaration

The UN’s “Sustainable Development Goals” are adopted by world leaders at the “World Education Forum” held in Incheon, Republic of Korea, promoting universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives.


International Literacy Year

The critical role of literacy is highlighted at the “World Conference on Education for All” in Jomtien, Thailand.


First International Literacy Day

Governments, schools and communities around the world participate in activities designed to focus on effective ways to end illiteracy at the local level.


UNESCO declares September 8 International Literacy Day

UNESCO declares September 8 International Literacy Day 
“…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.”


International Literacy Day is conceived

Discussed at the “World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy,” held in Tehran, Iran.

International Literacy Day FAQs

What is the theme for International Literacy Day 2019?

2019’s International Literacy Day theme was Literacy and Multilingualism.

Why is International Literacy Day celebrated?

Literacy is essential for proper social and individual human development. Basic literacy skills equip individuals to transform their lives by improving their overall standard of living, and in turn improve the standard of living for whole communities.

Who is the founder of International Literacy Day?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, created International Literacy Day in 1967.

Five Reasons Literacy Is Important To Everyone

  1. Brain health

    Studies show that giving the brain a daily workout reading, writing and working with numbers keeps brain cells healthy as we age, reducing the chances of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.

  2. Community participation

    The lack of literary skills limits social engagement at all age levels and prevents adults and children from being able to participate fully and contribute to the betterment of society.

  3. Effective Communication

    Learning to read and write improves our ability to communicate effectively with others by enhancing oral language, allowing us to express our feelings, thoughts, and ideas with others more clearly. 

  4. Employment Advancement

    Knowing how to read, write and work with numbers are critical skills for jobs with opportunities to advance up the social-economic ladder. Literacy breaks the cycle of poverty, one life at a time.

  5. Knowledge is Power

    Literacy is the key to personal empowerment and gives us personal dignity and self-worth.

International Literacy Day Activities

  1. Donate books to local classrooms

    Elementary school classroom libraries always need fresh reading material to keep young students interested in reading. Ask your child’s teachers for a wish list of books they know students will enjoy and donate them to the class. If you don’t have a child in school, ask coworkers, relatives or neighbors about donating to their children’s classroom libraries. You will be their hero on International Literacy Day.

  2. Gift a book

    Children are naturally curious about the world around them. Reading satisfies their desire to learn and stirs the imagination. Books are much appreciated gifts for birthdays, holidays, or for no reason at all other than to say, “I was thinking about you.” And isn’t International Literacy Day the perfect day to say “I was thinking about you” by giving a book to each of the children in your life? Don’t forget that adults appreciate receiving books as gifts, too.

  3. Start a community lending library

    Gather family, friends, or neighbors together today and start a small lending library in your neighborhood. In 2009, Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin started the first “Free Little Library” to make book sharing easily accessible and available anytime for people in his community. His concept of “take a book, return a book” is based on the honor system. We love that these little libraries are accessible 24/7 and there are never any late fees or fines.

Why We Love International Literacy Day

  1. We’re all in this together

    International Literacy Day reminds us that illiteracy exists in affluent societies, not just third world countries. It is a problem that needs to be solved and deserves our attention and participation.

  2. We are grateful

    Just thinking about how different our lives would be if we could not read or write makes us shiver. International Literacy Day gives us reason to pause and be thankful for the parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and others who invested their time to help us learn to read and write when we were young. Our literacy is a treasure for which we are grateful.

  3. Illiteracy is a problem that can be overcome

    Some problems appear to be so big and overwhelming they seem almost impossible to solve. But stopping the cycle of illiteracy is one challenge that can be solved – one child and one adult at a time.

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