International Literacy Day and motto of literacy campaign


The world recently celebrated International Literacy Day, which falls on Sept. 8. The United Nations has decided that there will be an international day for literacy to remind all countries and institutions around the world of the importance of literacy. As everybody knows, illiteracy means the inability to read and write.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has exerted great efforts, together with the participation of all countries, especially developing countries, to eradicate illiteracy and worked to make all members of the society to have proficiency in reading and writing.

The idea of dedicating this day to literacy had its origin at the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Conference held in 1965, and subsequently the United Nations adopted this at its session in 1966 and began celebrating International Literacy Day since the year 1967. It was decided that Sept. 8 each year would be a global day for the eradication of illiteracy and since that date the world has been celebrating International Literacy Day on that date.

The credit goes to UNESCO for what has been achieved by most countries in realizing the goal of eradicating illiteracy. The UN organization recommended all countries to revise their educational policies so as to bring down at least the number of illiterate people even if they cannot eradicate illiteracy totally. It also called for intensifying efforts to bring about more literate societies and make it a goal to achieve sustainable development.

The UNESCO also seeks to ensure the active participation of all members of society in eradicating illiteracy so that it can become a productive one in the political, social and economic realms. According to the UN organization, this won’t be achieved in the event of hundreds of millions of people, mostly women, remaining illiterate.

Similar is the case with hundreds of millions of children who are not enrolled in schools and therefore they do not have access to their basic right to education. These children have been denied the opportunity to develop their talents and skills and thus qualifying them to participate in the building and development of the communities they belonged to, and become part of societies like the ones that have made great strides in the field of education, training and literacy, to the extent that some developed countries achieved total literacy.

Some countries have even celebrated the ‘death’ of the last illiterate in their society.

There are questions asked about the existence of illiterate people in the society and who are responsible for such a scenario. Is it the educational system or those responsible for education, or is it the responsibility of the individuals themselves, or is it the collective responsibility of members of the society as a whole? It is unfortunate that in the Arab world there are large numbers of illiterate people and children who are not enrolled in schools to receive education, which is one of the fundamental human rights.

Saudi Arabia has made great strides in the field of eradication of illiteracy especially among women. The educational authorities have opened separate literacy schools for men and women. These adult learners have been given attractive rewards and have achieved some successes especially among women. Some of them have continued their education until getting admission to universities to pursue their higher studies. In the past, the Ministry of Education has made great achievements in empowering large number of men and women in acquiring skills in reading and writing. These adults even managed to assist their children in their learning process.

The ministry has been actively involved in promoting the literacy campaign and thus enabling many men and women learn to read and write. And among children, the cases of boys and girls who do not enroll schools are very rare. To my knowledge, there are no boys or girls in any region of the Kingdom who is not enrolled in schools. Moreover, there has been a sharp decline in the number of schools for illiterate people.

Even though the number of adult learners recorded a decrease, the ministry should have to keep these adult schools open for some more period of time in addition to doubling the remuneration and incentives given to the adult learners. The ministry has to arrange facilities for creating a better and attractive learning environment for those learners who have proved their efficiency and excellence in their studies.

The motto for such literacy campaign should be “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” as there is no age bar for acquisition of knowledge. The focus of the literacy schools should be to encourage students to acquire skills of reading and writing and not to make learning process a burdensome exercise that may result in losing their eagerness for learning and quest for knowledge and eventually end up in abandoning their courses of studies.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at