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In an age of enlightenment, technology and modern living, it’s amazing that it has been estimated that nearly 800 million adults worldwide lack even the most basic literacy skills.

International Literacy Day aims to highlight the importance and value of literary education for individuals and groups, as well as providing benefits for the wider global culture.

History of International Literacy Day

In this modern world, the ability for people to read and write has been directly connected to reduced poverty, improved socio-economic status, reduced population growth, minimized child and maternal mortality rates, and balancing out gender and equality on a sustainable level.

Because of this, many countries and governments all over the world believe that the increase of literacy rates in children will have a direct impact on the future welfare of them and their families.

Even something as simple as being able to read a street sign, fill out vital health forms, read the news or learn information from the internet is impossible without the ability to read. And this limits people’s ability to succeed and overcome obstacles in life.

In 1966, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed this day as International Literacy Day, sometimes called World Literacy Day. The intention was to remind people all over the world that the ability to read and write should not be taken for granted. An effort has been made for literacy rates to be increased.

Even though this particular effort toward literacy began more than 50 years ago, it is still a relevant issue today – especially in areas that are underdeveloped, under-privileged or at-risk, even in the developed world. International Literacy Day seeks to raise awareness about this lack and get others involved in helping to raise literacy rates which will, ultimately, change lives.

In fact, literacy is a key component of the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda leading up to the year 2030, understanding that for countries to be developed in a sustainable manner, they must assure that their citizens are able to function on a literate level, for their own benefit as well as for the world around them.

International Literacy Day Timeline


World literacy rate is low 

Less than 15% of people around the world are considered to be literate, with a heavy concentration in Western Europe and its offshoots.[1]


First Dick and Jane books are published 

Books published by Quizzlet feature the characters Dick and Jane, encouraging reading comprehension.[2]


First International Literacy Day is celebrated 

Established by the United Nations, International Literacy Day is founded to promote the benefits of literacy on the world.[3]


Barbara Bush starts her literacy foundation 

The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy is founded by the wife of then US President, George Bush.[4]


World literacy increases 

By this time, less than 15% of the world’s population remains illiterate, increasing 70% over the past 200 years.[5]

How to Celebrate International Literacy Day

Getting involved with World Literacy Day means making an important difference in the lives of people who want and need to learn how to read and write. Take a look at some of these ways for getting connected and making a difference in honor of the day:

Collect Books to Donate

Kids in underprivileged communities might have difficulty getting access to the books they need to improve their skills and become better readers. Whether buying them new or collecting them from used book stores or from yard sales throughout the summer, keep an eye out for books that can be donated.

Children who have access to books on a regular basis are much more likely to grow in their literacy skills. This is especially true when they can have a range reading material that is at their own specific reading level and piques their interest.

World Literacy Day is a great time to get inspired to help kids read. So grab some books at a new or used bookstore and donate them to a literacy program or underfunded school in the community. And feel great about helping others learn to read!

Tutor a Student in Reading and Writing

Some children (and adults!) struggle to read and write and can use extra help from a tutor to gain skills as well as confidence. And it often happens that the children who need the most help are the ones who have less access. Head over to the local library or school to find out ways that literacy programs can use extra help with tutoring.

Depending on the volunteer’s background or education, becoming a tutor may call for a bit of training and will probably require a background check for safety. But spending time with a child who struggles to read is an incredible way to make an impact on someone’s life for the moment and for the future!

Partner with a Literacy Organization

In addition to helping someone read locally, it’s also possible to get connected with global literacy initiatives through the UN Literacy Initiatives as well as through the World Literacy Foundation.

An organization that helps to facilitate tutoring and growth in literacy is Reading Partners. This group focuses on children from low-income backgrounds and in high-need elementary schools to help them become lifelong readers.

Another organization that is effectively pairing up adults with kids to get them to read together is called Everybody Wins! With a presence in Washington DC, Boston, Atlanta, Iowa, New York, Florida and other places, it’s a great volunteering opportunity for those in its various locations.

Make a Donation to a Literacy Charity

One great way to celebrate World Literacy Day is by making a donation to a charitable organization that supports and promotes literacy, whether for children or for adults. Consider some of these organizations to get involved with in celebration of the day:

  • World Literacy Foundation. With the belief that every child should be able to learn to read and write, this charity promotes changing the lives of children through literacy. People can also volunteer to donate their time through the efforts of this group.
  • ProLiteracy. Working to help raise adult literacy rates, this organization believes in improving lives all over the world by collaborating to create a human society that is more literate.
  • Reach Out and Read. Founded more than 30 years ago and focused specifically on the development of children’s brains from birth to age five, this organization partners with pediatric medical providers in at-risk areas to encourage daily reading to children and get them access to age-appropriate books.
  • Book Aid International. One of the world’s largest literacy charities, Book Aid works to make books available to people all over the earth.

Read a Book

An easy way to get started with celebrating International Literacy Day is by picking up a book and starting to read! This might mean rereading a favorite novel, starting on a new sci-fi series, diving into a non-fiction book to improve life skills, or taking a stroll down memory lane and picking up some children’s books again.

Many people take for granted the fact that they are literate and forget to take advantage of opportunities to expand the mind by reading. Whether it is a novel written by a person in a culture on the other side of the world, a technical manual for a niche job, or a self-improvement book, reading offers insight, instruction, enjoyment and opportunity for everyone.

Head to the Local Library

Not only is the local library filled with books to be enjoyed, it’s also often a hub of community events and activities that revolve around literacy. This would be a great place to find out about volunteer opportunities related to literacy. They might even be hosting various events in celebration of International Literacy Day. Check it out!

While at the local library, find out if there are ways to get involved in helping to build up the number of books that are available in the community library, school library, special needs literacy center or other place. The more books available to the community, the more people can build their reading skills, which is beneficial to everyone.

Start a Book Club

Grab a group of friends and celebrate the appreciation of the ability to read by reading a book together and discussing it. Even if there’s a book you’ve read before, it can be so much better and more interesting when discussed in a group.

Try one of these classic, must-read books that have been recommended for book clubs, or come up with some others on your own:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This 1960 classic brings to life all kinds of issues related to race and inequality, handling it with compassion and soul. Guaranteed to promote deep and heartfelt conversations in a book group.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Written in 1847 under a male pseudonym
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. This 1950 beloved fantasy written by a renowned professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities is a delight for readers young and old.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Revealing themes of freedom from slavery, corruption and abuse, this novel tells the story of a duo of travelers who are looking for more from life.

Listen to a Book on Tape

For those who are super busy, and feel like they don’t have time to read, literature can still be enjoyed while letting someone else do the reading! So many books are now available for listening that people who want to multitask can still “read”. Whether while driving, cooking, working out or engaging in other activities, “reading” while listening is an excellent way to absorb information or enjoy a novel without having to be looking at a book.

International Literacy Day FAQs

Why is literacy important?

Literacy is vital not only for functionality and career advancement, but also for self-esteem, building social engagement, and reducing inequality.[1]

Are literacy and reading the same?

Literacy includes reading, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes writing, speaking, listening and language.[2]

Has literacy declined?

While child literacy rates in the United States seem to be declining in recent years, the literacy rate in the world has increased significantly over the past two centuries.[3]

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy includes the ever changing world of technology as it is used to communicate information.[4]

How is literacy measured?

Worldwide, literacy rates are measured by the percentage of the population of a given age group who can read and write.[5]

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