United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Fortieth International Literacy Day

On September 8, International Literacy Day, celebrated this year for the 40th time, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura will launch a “call upon governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to give renewed attention and support to literacy as a vital instrument for achieving sustainable development”.

Although the global literacy rate has risen by 10 percent over the past 20 years, increasing by hundreds of thousands the number of people with access to the written word, 785 million adults, two thirds of them women, remain illiterate and 100 million children are out of school, according to figures released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics in May 2005 and the 2005 Education for All (EFA) Assessment. The same sources report that the situation is particularly critical in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Arab States and in southern and western Asia. In these regions, the rate of literacy is only 60 percent, compared to 99 percent in OECD countries. Over 70 percent of illiterate adults live in only nine countries, including India (34 percent), China (11 percent), Bangladesh (6.5 percent) and Pakistan (6.4 percent).

In his message for Literacy Day, Mr Matsuura considers that “literacy is a precondition of effective social participation and a tool of empowerment at individual and community levels.” Mr Matsuura further recalls that the United Nations Decade for Decade (2003-2012), “led and coordinated by UNESCO, aims at mobilizing greater national and international efforts to achieve the Dakar [World Education Forum, 2000] goal of reducing illiteracy rates by half by 2015.”

Within the framework of the celebration of International Literacy Day, UNESCO is organizing a series of events, in Paris, at Headquarters, and in Madagascar where 30 percent of the population is illiterate.

As part of the “Hope and Solidarity Around a Ball” programme, 1998 World Football Champion Emmanuel Petit; Stephane Diagana, 1999 World Track and Field Champion; and Laurent Cabannes, the 1990 French Rugby Champion, are in Madagascar until September 8 to play football with underprivileged populations and raise their awareness of reading and writing. They will visit training centres promoting basic education for all children launched by a joint Malagasy government/UN system programme. In these centres intensive teaching methods enable children and adults to learn to read in only one month.

September 8, at UNESCO Headquarters, Koïchiro Matsuura, will open the 40th International Literacy Day (Room IV at 10:30 a.m.). French author Philippe Delerm will take the floor along with two people learning to read and write through the Association for the Teaching and Training of Immigrant Workers (AEFTI), who will bear testimony about life as illiterate adults in Paris.
UNESCO’s International Literacy Prizes, each worth US$15,000, will be awarded to the three 2005 laureates: the Spanish association Aula Cultural; the Sudanese humanitarian organization, GOAL Sudan; and Associação Progresso, a non-governmental organization working for community development in Mozambique.

Henriette Rasmussen, Greenland’s Minister Of Education, and Mr Matsuura will inaugurate the “Writing is an Act of Love: Copenhagen, Paris, Alexandria” exhibition devoted to the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, whose stories inspired thousands to learn to read (Segur Hall, Noon). After opening last April in Copenhagen, the exhibition celebrating the bicentennial of Andersen’s birth will be on show in Paris at UNESCO Headquarters until September 29. Visitors will be able to leaf through reproductions of Andersen’s manuscripts while listening to his tales read out by “Andersen 2005 Ambassadors” such as the French musician and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Jean-Michel Jarre. Finally, the exhibition will travel to the Library of Alexandria in Egypt where it will become part of the permanent collection.

A press kit is also available at the Press Relations Section, by request.

UNESCO’s Dakar, Senegal Office has produced a video on International Literacy Day, which can be downloaded in the following languages:

  • English
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • Swahili

    A professional format (BETA cassette) is also available from the UNESCO Audiovisual Section.


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    Author(s) UNESCOPRESS
    Source Media Advisory N°2005-52
    Website 1 (URL) International Literacy Day 2005
    Website 2 (URL) UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics
    Website 3 (URL) Director-General’s message
    Website 4 (URL) United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012)
    Generic Field
    Arabic | Russian
    Editorial Contact: Jasmina Sopova, Press Relations Section, tel. +33 (0)1 45 68 17 17
    - Email j.sopova@unesco.org
    Audiovisual Contact: Carole darmouni, Audiovisual Section, tel. +33 (0)1 45 68 17 38
    - Email c.darmouni@unesco.org
    Publication Date 05 Sep 2005
    © UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 28733