International Literacy Day 2020: History, importance and theme of the UNESCO designated day

At the 14th session of UNESCO’s general conference in 1966, the first-ever International Literacy Day was declared and since then it has been celebrated annually on September 8, in an effort to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals and communities around the world.

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According to recent consensus, about 775 million adults lack the minimum education that is required to be literate and of those, 60.7 million children are out of school or are rare attendees. According to the UNESCO’s ‘Global Monitoring Report on Education for All’ (2006), South Asia has the lowest regional adult literacy rate, at 58.6%, and the causes for this illiteracy range from severe poverty and the prejudice against women.

This day is celebrated in an effort to combat these problems and to provide a quality education for all. Through the course of the years, the United Nations (UN) has given this day special themes keeping in line with the current environment. Ranging from ‘Literacy and Health’, ‘Literacy and Epidemics’, which focused on communicable diseases such as HIV, to ‘Literacy and Empowerment’ and ‘Literacy and Peace’ a few years later. For the year 2020, the theme has been kept in line with the threat of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and it focuses on “Literacy teaching and learning in the Covid-19 crisis and beyond.”

It may seem redundant by now, but the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the proper flow of our society as a whole. For children primarily, their education has been severely disrupted as the majority of the school around the world have been closed since the start of the pandemic. According to the World Literacy Foundation, founded in 2003, more than 190 countries closed their school which affected the education of approximately 1.27 billion children and youth.

This year’s celebration is going to shed light on “the role of educators and changing pedagogies.” It thinks of literacy from the perspective of lifelong experience and hence its importance for the youth ad adults. “During COVID-19, in many countries, adult literacy programmes were absent in the initial education response plans, so most adult literacy programmes that did exist were suspended, with just a few courses continuing virtually, through TV and radio, or in open-air spaces.”

Most classes and lectures are being conducted online and though that does make a difference, the question of what the future holds in terms of the process of education in unknown. For the celebration of International Literacy Day, the UN are organising online seminars and talks that go over these pertinent questions. There will be two meetings held, one about the ‘Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond: the role of educators and changing pedagogies’ and another on ‘The Laureates of the UNESCO International Literacy Prizes 2020’.

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