In 1965, UNESCO declared September 8 International Literacy Day (ILD) as part of an effort to raise awareness of worldwide literacy needs. UNESCO estimates that even today, 774 million adults — two-thirds of whom are women — still cannot read or write. Furthermore, there are roughly 123 million children who lack these same skills, and who are often denied any access to education.
When faced with such startling statistics, one might assume that illiteracy is a distant issue concentrated primarily in the developing world. However, this is a truly global problem that touches all communities. In fact, there are approximately 32 million adults in the U.S. alone who are considered illiterate. There are countless more who are under-literate, and who because of this, struggle to get and maintain well-paying jobs.
In recognition of these challenges — as well as foundational belief in the hope offered through literacy education — the International Reading Association (IRA) decided to focus on literacy and career readiness for ILD 2013, and throughout the entire month of September.
Our celebration centered on the hopeful notion that when a child learns to read, she gains access to a brighter future and her dreams are brought within reach. With our theme, “Invent Your Future,” IRA hoped to inspire students to dream big about their futures, as well as illustrate the crucial role literacy skills play in achieving those dreams.
IRA observed ILD on Monday, September 9, to increase participation from schools and libraries. An IRA-created “Invent Your Future” activity kit offered ideas for classroom celebrations, and encouraged teachers to share what they did to mark the day.
Schools across the world participated and many shared their stories. We heard from two teachers in Franklin, Mass., who challenged their middle-school students to write their own future headline. An educator from Omaha, Neb., tweeted her students’ responses to the prompt “Because I am literate, I can…” throughout the afternoon. And from the Philippines, we received photos of an International Literacy Day parade held in the city of Santa Rosa.
To keep the momentum going, IRA’s Engage blog featured teaching tips, guest blog posts, and interviews that reflected the theme throughout the month. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Their Future Is Now: 4 Ways to Prepare our Students for Life in the Digital World: Julie D. Ramsay, author of “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing? Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3-8,” outlines several effective practices for teaching digital safety skills.
- Career Education in First Grade?: Kathy Cassidy makes the case for teaching even the youngest learners skills that will someday help position them more successfully in the job market, including collaborative problem solving and digital literacy.
- Did You Say Citing Evidence Using Video Games? Incorporating Gaming in the Classroom: Third-grade teacher Brandi Leggett explains how to use the popular video game creation site Sploder to teach students how to problem solve, summarize, and cite evidence.
- Putting Books to Work: ‘Carver: A Life in Poems’: Aimee Rogers illustrates how to use Marilyn Nelson’s biography-in-verse of inventor George Washington Carver in the classroom, offering several cross-curricular connections and offering a rich list of additional resources.
Now, as September — which also happens to be National Literacy Month — draws to a close, so does the chapter on ILD 2013. IRA is thrilled to have had the opportunity to organize events and activities that facilitated the ILD celebration in classrooms around the world. But it is only through the combined efforts of individual teachers that the challenge of bringing the hope and promise of literacy to the world is made attainable.
So, even as we look ahead to next year’s celebration, we want to encourage educators of students of all ages to keep shining the spotlight on the dreams that can be realized through career ready reading, speaking, thinking, and listening skills.
Lara Deloza, an educator with more than a decade’s worth of teaching experience from the University of Delaware, and Jon Hartley work for the International Reading Association, a nonprofit, global network of individuals and institutions committed to worldwide literacy. For nearly 60 years, IRA has supported literacy professionals through a wide range of resources, advocacy efforts, volunteerism, and professional development activities.