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International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day is a holiday that is celebrated annually on September 8th. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of literacy issues faced by people all over the world and to endorse campaigns that help increase literacy for all people. It was originally established by UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization – in 1965.

History of International Literacy Day

To combat worldwide issues of illiteracy, UNESCO proclaimed September 8th as International Literacy Day in 1965. The purpose of this observance was not only to combat illiteracy but also to promote literacy as a tool that could empower individuals as well as whole communities.

From these humble beginnings, International Literacy Day has blossomed into a tool that could help millions of people around the globe. As of 2016, about 775 million adults lack even the most basic literacy skills worldwide. This means that about 1 in 5 adults in the world – or about 20% of all people – are not literate. Of that 20%, about 66% are women.

About 75 million of the world’s children are not in school or have dropped out before finishing. However, thanks to the efforts of UNESCO & World Literacy Day, more and more people are becoming literate, and about 4 billion people are currently literate.

International Literacy Day Customs & Traditions

Every year, UNESCO issues a theme for the celebration of International Literacy Day. For instance, in 2011, the theme was “Literacy & Peace,” in 2013, the theme was “Literacy for the 21st Century,” and in 2015, the theme was “Literacy and Sustainable Societies.”

UNESCO and its partners use these themes to highlight the programs which they and their partners use to tackle various parts of the literacy issues in the world. As a result of some of these programs, attention is often raised in the media about literacy issues, especially on the Internet where the hashtag #literacyday has been trending for the last few years.

International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day is an annual worldwide observance that falls on February 21st. This day not only celebrates language diversity all over the world but also commemorates the killing of four students on February 21, 1952. These students were killed because they campaigned to officially use their mother language, Bengali, in Bangladesh.

History of International Mother Language Day

International Mother Language Day was originally a social movement that started to defend a person’s right to speak and write in one’s mother language. February 21st was chosen as the date because that is when students attending the University of Dhaka, Jagannath University, and Dhaka Medical College were murdered by police while demonstrating for the right to speak in their mother tongue, Bengali.

This movement began to snowball over the next few decades. Eventually, a Bengali named Rafiqul Islam, who was living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, decided to send a letter to the United Nations to ask for a day to be established that would preserve and protect the languages of the world. In his letter, he stated that February 21st should be the day on which it is celebrated in honor of the killings in Dhaka.

This would eventually lead to the proposal of resolution A/RES/61/266. Finally, in 1999, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution A/RES/61/266. This resolution set February 21st as International Mother Language Day and called on all member states to promote this observance as a way to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by people all over the world.

International Mother Language Day Customs & Traditions

Officially, UNESCO and many of its partners promote various linguistic and cultural diversity events on International Mother Language Day. Many universities around the world host a mother language day, and some governments issue a proclamation on this day.

In Bangladesh, people lay flowers at the martyrs’ monument known as Shaheed Minar. Additionally, various awards and prizes for literacy competitions that promote multiculturalism and multilingualism are held on this day.

When is it?
This year (2024)
September 8 Sunday
Next year (2025)
September 8 Monday
Last year (2023)
September 8 Friday
Education & Reading, United Nations