International Literacy Day Over the Years

International Literacy Day Over the Years

A need based evolution of the interpretation of the term ‘literacy’

Literacy by definition broadly means the cognitive skills of reading and writing. A person who could read and write in any language was considered literate. But, the impact and significance of literacy is ever-changing and has evolved over the years.

When UNESCO announced the celebration of the International Literacy Day in 1965, the importance of literacy was restricted only in its implementation, and especially trying to extend the reach of education to the maximum population. But with time we have started to realize the broader impact of education on different aspects of social development. The changing themes of the International Literacy Day bear testimony to the evolution of the concept.

Fifteen years later, we can find that the shadow of illiteracy still looming large. In the 1981 document published by the UNESCO, the organisation admit the insufficiency in measures to eradicate illiteracy and that there were around 130 million children between ages 6 and 10 still beyond the reach of schooling. So the primary objective of UNESCO shifts to imparting primary education.

In the new millennium, the meaning of education has changed a lot and we have come to realize the impacts that education creates on the society as a whole. For instance, in 2012 UNESCO acknowledged the impact of education in sustaining peace and harmony throughout the world.

Another key impact that education can achieve in the society is gender equality. The theme in 2003-04 was ‘Literacy and Gender’. While the economic benefits of educating girls are similar to those of educating boys, recent findings suggest that the social benefits are greater. Women have the potential to change their own economic status and that of the communities in which they live.

The theme of the Literacy Day in 2008 was the impact of literacy on health. Around the world, communities are discovering that by using their own language, they are also developing solutions to health-related challenges. Reading materials in local languages that discuss hygiene, nutrition, and the prevention and treatment of diseases have proven to be effective in improving general health and life expectancy. There is a higher availability of culturally-relevant information that dispels misconceptions regarding HIV, malaria and other diseases today.
The overall perspective of agencies working in the education sector is changing and evolving over the years, in the sense that more recently they are becoming additionally conscious about the wider impacts of education beyond just human capital generation. The focus has now turned to leveraging education as means in achieving larger goals such as sustainable development.


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Shraman Banerjee