International Literacy Day
Article by Wendy E. Lapham
The beginning of a new school year is often hectic, but it is also a meaningful time for children to recognize and celebrate the value of learning. International Literacy Day, observed worldwide on September 8, can serve as an effective way for teachers to involve students in celebrating reading, writing, and literacy in the first weeks of school. At the same time, International Literacy Day is an opportunity for young people to learn more about the important issue of illiteracy, which affects children and adults throughout the world. The aim of International Literacy Day is to focus attention on worldwide literacy issues and needs. The International Reading Association (http://www.reading.org), a professional educational organization, supports ongoing efforts to involve teachers and schools in recognizing this important global celebration of learning.
The United Nations estimates that 875 million of the world's adults do not know how to read or write and more than 110 million children lack access to education. Progress is being made, but slowly, and the advent of new technologies means that the gap between rich and poor countries is growing wider. Teachers can access statistical data about world education and literacy levels from the UNESCO database (http://www.uis.unesco.org/pagesen/ed.htm) which includes facts about enrollment, expenditures on education, and literacy statistics by country.
International Literacy Day was created in 1956 at the World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, held in Tehran, Iran. At this meeting it was recommended that September 8, the date of the inauguration of the conference, be proclaimed International Literacy Day, and that on this day each year individuals, organizations, and countries throughout the world would renew their efforts to combat illiteracy and would demonstrate their commitment to providing education for all. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began officially observing International Literacy Day in 1967. UNESCO's prominent role as an international advocate for education has greatly enhanced the promotion of International Literacy Day and its annual worldwide celebration on September 8.
Since 1979, The International Reading Association has recognized outstanding literacy programs throughout the world through the annual International Reading Association Literacy Award. The award has benefited programs in nations representing every region of the globe, including some of the most economically and educationally disadvantaged areas. The Association works in partnership with other literacy organizations to sponsor an International Literacy Day event in Washington, DC each year, and in September 2001 the Association is piloting a statewide celebration of International Literacy Day in the state of Delaware.
Because International Literacy Day coincides with the beginning of a new school year in many countries, classroom teachers are encouraged to use this special day to recognize the importance of literacy in the lives of children and adults. Because September 8 falls on a Saturday in 2001, many schools and organizations will hold events on Friday, September 7th. Here are some ideas for celebrating International Literacy Day in your school or classroom:
Talk About Literacy. Talk with your students about what it means to be able to read and write, and all the ways literacy makes life better. Make a list of favorite books or words. Write letters to someone special. Set aside time for silent reading or reading aloud. Have older students make books that can be shared with younger students.
Talk About Illiteracy. Talk with your students about the issue of illiteracy and how it affects millions of people worldwide. Have them imagine their lives if they couldn't read or write. Two organizations dealing with adult literacy are ProLiteracy Worldwide (http://www.proliteracy.org/) and PBS Literacy Link (http://www.pbs.org/literacy/). Consider contacting a local adult literacy program and inviting an adult learner to speak to your school or class. Adult learners are often very effective speakers who can really help young people understand the challenges faced by people with low literacy skills.
Think Globally. International Literacy Day is an excellent way to encourage students to learn more about the world and the challenges of illiteracy faced by many cultures. Two well-known organizations with a commitment to helping children are CARE (http://www.care.org) and UNICEF (http://www.unicef.org). Education and literacy statistics by country can be obtained from the UNESCO website statistical database (http://www.uis.unesco.org/pagesen/ed.htm).
Act Locally. There are many ways teachers and students can raise awareness about literacy and affect change. Organize a special event in your school on International Literacy Day, with invited dignitaries from your community. Have students brainstorm ways to promote reading and literacy in their communities, and then act on them. Create a partnership with a local television or radio station, magazine, or newspaper to pursue a special project with students. Approach a local bookstore about donating books for disadvantaged children or to use as prizes for reading awards at your school. Initiate an annual contest or reward on a literacy-related theme.
Improving literacy rates worldwide is an ongoing challenge that affects us all, and is a problem that combines a variety of topics of interest to both teachers and students, including some very compelling social, economic, geographic, and child welfare issues. International Literacy Day provides a unique opportunity for teachers and schools to encourage students to consider the value of learning and the gifts of reading and writing while also learning more about the world around them. Celebrate literacy and learning by celebrating International Literacy Day.
For more information about International Literacy Day, please contact the International Reading Association, Public Information Office, 800 Barksdale Road, PO Box 8139, Newark, Delaware 19714-8139, USA. Phone: 302-731-1600. Email: email@example.com.
About the Author
Wendy E. Lapham is Special Projects Coordinator for the International Reading Association, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting higher achievement levels in literacy, reading, and communication by continually advancing the quality of instruction worldwide.
Published: September 2001