RIP Joan Rivers. There is a literacy connection that some of us of a certain age may recall: Rivers served as the narrator for the Adventures of Letterman cartoons that used to run during the old 1970s PBS show, The Electric Company. The Electric Company was created to help elementary school-aged children children develop their grammar and reading skills—more or less grad school for the original Sesame Street generation.
Today is International Literacy Day, an annual observance aimed at focusing attention on the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies around the world. According to new data released today by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), over 774 million adults on this planet do not know how to read or write (two-thirds of which are women), and roughly 123 million children not only lack basic literacy skills, but are often without access to any education at all.
According to UNESCO, on the basis of current trends, 743 million adults will still lack basic literacy skills in 2015, the deadline for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.
September 8th was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO back in 1965, and first celebrated in 1966. In my experience it tends to get a bit more attention outside the Unites States, although there are events here in the U.S. as well.
Every year, for example, the International Reading Association (IRA) hosts an event marking the day in Washington, D.C. This year’s event, “Career Ready Reading: What Employers Need from Schools and How We Can Work Together,” focuses on the connection between reading skills and career-readiness. This event reflects the IRA’s theme for this year’s ILD: “Invent Your Future,” aimed at highlighting “the crucial literacy skills that prime students for success in school, work, and life.”
UNESCO also picks a theme for each year’s celebration. This year’s theme is “literacies for the 21st century.” According to UNESCO, this means highlighting the need for not only basic literacy skills, but the need to “equip everyone with more advanced literacy skills as part of lifelong learning.”
In his International Literacy Day message, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “In our knowledge-based era, literacy is a foundation for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.”
Here are some additional ILD links you may find of interest:
- To illustrate the disparities in adult and youth literacy rates, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics has created an interactive map with literacy statistics from 150 countries and territories, including literacy rates by sex and the correlation with national wealth. UNESCO has produced a huge ILD 2013 infographic (click on the thumbnail on the right for the full version) that highlights these statistics.
- UNESCO is also hosting a colloquium in Paris tomorrow and Tuesday, entitled, “Advancing towards a Literate Twenty-first Century.” According to UNESCO, the colloquium will discuss the idea of a Global Coalition, a multi-stakeholder Partnership for advancing a literacy agenda proposed to be launched in November.
- “On International Literacy Day, Let’s Remember the Children Who Don’t Have a Chance to Read” — blog post by Alice Albright, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education.
- “What Literacy has Done for Us” — article from the Norwegian Refugee Council.
- Editorial in the Gaston County N.C. Gazette.
- Editorial in the Times-News (Alamance County, N.C.) — “Raising literacy in the community raises us all.”
- Editorial in Davidson County, N.C. Dispatch.
- Three ways to celebrate International Literacy Day today — ChicagoNow
- Free admission to any Florida state park today for anyone who presents a valid library card, a book checked out from the library, or donates a new or used, family friendly book!
- Editorial in the Daily Star (Bangladesh)
- Pakistan will celebrate the International Literacy Day 2013 with a three-day nationwide campaign to enrol at least 500,000 out-of-school children. More on ILD in Pakistan Today. Meanwhile, The U.S. has announced the launch of a new $160 million dollar Pakistan Reading Project to boost the reading skills of 3.2 million Pakistani children.
- Statement from Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares.
- Here is a story about an ILD event at the U.N.’s office in Armenia. And here is one about a similar event in Azerbaijan.
- Speaking at the International Literacy Day celebration held in New Delhi, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee called for achieving a literacy rate in India that is “at par with leading countries in the world.”
- Here’s a post I wrote last year on ILD 2012.
And remember, in the immortal words of Krusty: “Give a hoot, read a book.”
UPDATE 9/17/13: Here are some more links to ILD 2013 activities and announcements from around the world that I’ve come across since my original post:
- Education greatest equaliser – Helmut Angula (Namibia)
- Zambezi observes literacy week (Namibia)
- Making adult literacy learning sustainable in rural areas – an interesting article by Sarah Hasaba, former UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace researcher, that looks at adult literacy learning programs operating within rural communities in Uganda, Kenya and Vietnam.
A short news item in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot (which enjoys a far greater readership than their rival paper, the justifiably reviled Wilkes Ledger-Traitor*) notes that the local adult literacy agency, Wilkes Literacy, has recently expanded its programming to include more services for children as well as adults. Not because they are moving their focus away former serving adults, but because this helps them serve adults better:
“The idea is to get the children involved, and then their parents will come for classes too,” said Dennis Johnson, executive director of Wilkes Literacy.
“Plus it is hard for parents to come if their children don’t have a place to go,” said Johnson. “Now children and parents come at the same time.”
So, here again, a program on the ground gets it: with a family/community focus, more come through the door and more of them stay. So how do we ensure that federal and state policy encourages (or at least does not get in the way of) common-sense programming like this— programming that makes it possible for adults who are parents to attend adult education classes, and thus leads to better enrollment and retention numbers?
*Editor’s Note: There is no newspaper call the Wilkes Ledger-Traitor.
Here is a video of Run DMC promoting literacy on an episode of Reading Rainbow, back in the 1980s. I’m posting it here because, as a matter of literacy policy, we need to remind policymakers that reading is a very fresh way to learn.
Reading Rainbow was a great show. The host, Levar Burton, also served as executive producer of the series, which ran for an amazing 21 seasons and won a boatload of Emmys and a Peabody Award. Burton was—and still is—a great literacy champion. He may have introduced more kids to books than anyone alive today. I learned recently that he’s just finishing up work on a new multimedia/tablet version of the show.