In 1966, the UNESCO General Conference designated September 8th as International Literacy Day (ILD). This day would serve to reinforce “the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.” In the over 50 years since this day was first recognized, real progress in advancing literacy throughout the world has been made, but today, more than 1/10th of the world’s population is illiterate, and women make up 2/3 of that group. And the results of a 2003 national survey completed by the US government said that only 13% of adults in the US have proficient literacy skills, which means that the vast majority of adults lack the skill to capably read the news, instruction manuals, and information related to their healthcare.
It’s safe to say there’s still work to do.
We know that promoting early literacy is important to a child’s growth and development. Studies have shown that children who can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. This is the turning point from when children are taught to read to where they are expected to gain knowledge from the texts they read. And having solid speaking and writing skills can be a major factor in whether people live in poverty or flourish.
Promoting Early Literacy
Developing literacy (of any kind) begins with fostering interest. Anyone who has spent time with a toddler or young child knows that they want to try out new things, test their limits, and improve. Capitalizing on this innate desire is an easy way to develop reading skills. Start by keeping books in your home and reading them to your children. This helps them learn how to operate a book, how to read in their language, and to see the joy that comes from reading. As they grow older, make it a goal to have them take over the reading while you continue to sit with them. Talking to and with young children is important, too, as it helps to grow their vocabulary.
The proliferation of WiFi-enabled devices, free apps, and technology in general make it easier than ever to help children develop reading and writing skills. Borrowing ebooks from your local public library enables kids to have access to hundreds of books without spending a dime or carrying extra weight, and there are many apps available that help children (and adults) learn how to read. If you prefer physical books (there is something special about turning pages, and closing a book for the last time after you’ve finished it, after all), again, the library can be a great resource, and so can local bookstores.
Supporting International Literacy Day
In addition to promoting early literacy among your students and children, you can support international literacy on a larger scale. Donate to the International Literacy Association or your local library. Give books you no longer need to an organization or person who could use them. Volunteer as a tutor, or read with a loved one to improve their reading and writing skills. Or work on your own writing skills and share what you’ve written on social media using the hashtags #internationalliteracyday or #literacyday.
This year’s ILD theme is Literacy and Multilingualism, so if you’ve been wanting to brush up on your high-school Spanish, help support literacy by doing so! With how easy it is to communicate with people across time zones thanks to cell phones, the Internet, and social media, being able to communicate across borders is increasingly valuable.
Lastly, learn more about how reading improves your mind and body. Did you know that reading can help decrease stress by as much as 68% and help to develop empathy? And the benefits of reading are greatest in young children and older adults, so it’s important that educators and adults are promoting early literacy to help children develop a lifelong love of reading.
Brown, B. (2016, November 27). 14 ways reading improves your mind and body (infographic). The Expert Editor. Retrieved from https://experteditor.com.au/blog/brain-books-benefits-reading/
Hernandez, D. J. (2011, April). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. Albany, NY: Annie E. Casey Foundation and Center for Demographic Analysis at the University of Albany. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED518818.pdf
Moats, L., & Tolman, C. (n.d.). Speaking is natural; Reading and writing are not. Reading Rockets. Retrieved from https://www.readingrockets.org/article/speaking-natural-reading-and-writing-are-not
National Today. (n.d.). International literacy day. National Today. Retrieved from https://nationaltoday.com/international-literacy-day/
UNESCO. (n.d.). International Literacy Day. UNESCO. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/literacyday