Communication is a basic skill required in order to interact with fellow human beings and to facilitate understanding when developing a society. While nearly every individual learns to communicate verbally, unfortunately not many get chance for formal education.
With the need to eradicate illiteracy in mind, the idea of celebrating a International Literacy Day was first discussed on September 8 to 19, 1965, during the World Conference of Ministers of Education in Tehran, Iran.
On 26 October, 1966, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) gathered for the 14th general conference and proclaimed that September 8 will be celebrated as International Literacy Day.
“The need for the real emancipation of people and for the increasingly active and productive participation, in the economic, social and political life of human society, of the hundreds of millions of illierate adults still existing in the world, make it essential to change national education policies,” the final report of the 1966 conference stated.
It added that education systems across the world should provide the training required for children and working adults so that they can learn to read and write. “National educational plans should include schooling for children and literacy training for adults as parallel elements,” the report said.
The first International Literacy Day was celebrated in 1967 and this tradition has been held annually for 50 years. While the UNESCO has noted positive trends of growing literacy rates among children, the same cannot be said about the adult population.
“The wider adult population has not benefited to the same extent in some regions. It is a troubling fact that there are now more adults without literacy compared with 50 years ago, meaning that our efforts have not kept pace with population growth,” said Qian Tang, UNESCO education assistant director-general, in the 50th International Literacy Day Review.
He notes that the international community already has its eyes on 2030 with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has aimed to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” within its goals.
He further said that there are currently about 758 million youth and adults who have been “excluded from the network of written communication”.
The 50 year review that South Asia (which includes Bangladesh, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Nepal and Pakistan) states that the large scale illiteracy is ever-present among adults.
The review notes that there were about 43.9 million illiterate young people in 2015 and this will presist “for decades” due to extreme poverty and political conflict. However, Southern Asia has made “considerable progress” since 1990 and the regional youth literacy rate has seen a rise from 60 per cent in 1990 to almost 90 per cent in 2015.
In India, the adult literacy rate has increased by merely 18.4 per cent in 15 years. It was 61 per cent in 2000 and 72.2 per cent in 2015. Nepal and Pakistan have seen the most growth among South Asian nations with 33 and 32.2 per cent increase in adult literacy during the same period, closely followed by Bangladesh at 29.5 per cent.