September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on November 17, 1965. Since, it was first celebrated in 1966, educational institutions and literacy organizations around the world are commemorating the day each year. Their goal is to mobilize international public opinion and to elicit interest and active support for literacy activities.
Every year, the UNESCO International Literacy Prize reward excellence and innovation in the field of literacy throughout the world. By honouring the work of institutions, organizations and individuals through these prizes, UNESCO seeks to support effective literacy practices and encourages the promotion of dynamic literate societies.
Two international prizes are awarded each year:
The two King Sejong Literacy Prizes created in 1989 by the Government of the Republic of Korea to commemorate a king who invented, more than 500 years ago, an alphabet consisting of 22 easy-to-learn letters. This prize is for those supporting literacy in multilingual contexts. Each of the two awards consists of a sum of $20,000 US, a silver medal and a certificate.
UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy. Created in 2005 by the Government of China, this prize is named in honour of the renowned scholar Confucius. These two prizes are for those supporting literacy in rural areas, rural adults and out-of-school youth, particularly women and girls. It consists of two monetary awards of $20,000 US, a medal and a diploma awarded to each prize-winner. In addition, the Confucius Prize offers a study visit to literacy project sites in China.
In 2003 UNESCO launched the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD). The overall target of the decade has been to increase literacy rates by 50 percent to meet the Education for All goals. UNLD also implements a number of activities to achieve the objectives of the Decade, notably through its Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) launched in 2005.
Every other year, the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD, 2003-2012), focuses on a specific theme. These varied topics have been used to demonstrate the multiple uses and value of literacy around the world:
The year 2012 marks the final one of the United Nations Literacy Decade. In consultation and collaboration with countries and development partners, UNESCO is coordinating the process of evaluating the UNLD. The report on the final evaluation is to be submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2013.
According to UNESCO, despite many and varied efforts, literacy remains an elusive target: some 793 million adults lack minimum literacy skills which means that about one in six adults is still not literate; 67.4 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.