World celebrates International Literacy Day
Students ride their bikes in Laos. Despite major improvements in recent decades, only 68.7% of young Laotian females could read in 2014. Source: Shutterstock

On Friday, the international community celebrated Literacy Day, designed to promote the value of literacy to individuals and their communities worldwide.

Sept 8 was declared International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 1965 and has been celebrated annually ever since. Today, however, there remain an estimated 781 million adults over the age of 15 who are unable to read.

Literacy Day 2017 was themed “Literacy in a digital world”  and saw celebrations including the presentation of Unesco’s International Literacy Prizes to laureates from Canada, Colombia, Jordan, Pakistan and South Africa at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, France.

“Digital technologies permeate all spheres of our lives, fundamentally shaping how we live, work, learn and socialise,” said Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova in her message to mark the occasion.

“These new technologies are opening vast new opportunities to improve our lives and connect globally – but they can also marginalise those who lack the essential skills, like literacy, needed to navigate them,” she said.

Literacy Day saw British actor Idris Elba read a story named The Little Chicken Named Pong-Pong in promotion of Project Literacy’s Rewriting Lives programme for adult literacy.

Under the Sustainable Development Goals, all UN member states have signed up to achieve universal youth literacy by 2030.

Shockingly, around two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population are women, found a United Nations report from 2015.

Countries with the lowest literacy rates remain concentrated in Africa and Asia, with poverty being the driving factor: only around 28 percent of the populations of South Sudan, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Niger can read.

A report by the Unesco Institute for Statistics found that more than half of those who are illiterate worldwide live in West and South Asia.

According to Unesco, some 264 million out-of school children lack basic literary skills.

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