International Literacy Day was instituted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). This annual celebration started following a recommendation of the World Conference of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of illiteracy which met in Tehran in September 1965. The Conference recommended that the 8th day of September, the date of the inauguration of the Conference, be proclaimed International Literacy Day and be observed worldwide.
Hence, the first celebration took place in 1966. Since then, the day has been commemorated annually around the world under the auspices of UNESCO to advance the literacy agenda at global, national and regional levels.
The celebration reminds the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies. This year’s event commemorates the 53rd anniversary of the Day and the advancement of the notion of Functional Literacy.
The celebration of the Day has always hinged on themes that direct institutions and countries to focus action on challenges facing literacy that require critical attention. The global theme for this year’s celebration is “Literacy and Multilingualism’’ Language has a relevant role in the daily interaction of humanity. It is not only a tool for dialogue but, for information, education, social integration and development. Critical to the role of language, is serving as the repository for every individual’s unique identity, cultural history, tradition and memory. Additionally, it is an undeniable fact that the penultimate of every culture is the language.
In spite of the immense value of language, this priceless medium of communication continues to disappear at an alarming and disturbing rate. The promptings to awake to the disappearance of indigenous languages are to raise the important contribution they make to our worlds rich cultural diversity. Hence, standing up to these warnings are exhibits of a deeper understanding of the enormous relevance of indigenous languages to our lives and cultures. This has led to the United Nations declaring 2019 as "The year for Indigenous Languages." What we all ought to know is when our indigenous languages disappear, our unique cultures will fade away. Therefore, we are at the right place at the right time to save what defines all of us distinctively.
According to the United Nations, there are 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, 370 million indigenous people in the world, 90 countries with indigenous communities and 5,000 different indigenous cultures. However, 2680 indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing. This is a visible threat, that the world needs to turn around.
Evidence abound around the world, where developed countries have used their indigenous languages to educate their own. Mention can be made of Germany, China, Japan, Russia, India, Singapore, etc. The list can go on. It cannot be disputed that the success of these countries is not attributable to the use of their indigenous language to educate their citizens.
The Ghanaian media deserves a pat on the back for employing our indigenous languages as a medium of broadcasting across the country. Many resorted to a relentless drumbeat that electronic media transmitting in the local languages will not succeed. However, your unrestrained passion has created a whole employment avenue for many Ghanaians. This is a triumph of resilience over sceptics' conviction.
Nevertheless, irrespective of the efforts of governments around the world, according to UNESCO Institute of Statistics, globally, at least 750 million youth and adults still cannot read and write and 250 million children are still failing to acquire basic literacy skills. This results in an exclusion of low-literate and low-skilled youth and adults from full participation in their communities and societies.
Literacy is a means for sustainable development. It serves as an enabler for greater participation in the labour market, improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities. Presently, education has gone beyond the conventional concept of reading, writing and numeracy into a means of identification, understanding and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, info-rich and fast-changing world.
Let us work together to ensure education takes its rightful place in our societies for a greater transformation.
Head, Public Relations
Non-Formal Education Division
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