International Literacy Day shines a spotlight on the digital world

published 8 September 2017 updated 11 September 2017

With the global digital divide representing a sizable imbalance among populations, the importance of digital literacy in today’s world cannot be overlooked, especially when it comes to achieving Education 2030.

UNESCO global event

‘Literacy in a digital world’ is the focus of this year’s International Literacy Day  being celebrated across the world. To officially mark the occasion, UNESCO is holding a global conference in Paris, France, which aims to highlight the challenges and opportunities in promoting literacy in the digital world, a world where, despite progress, at least 750 million adults and 264 million out-of-school children still lack basic literacy skills.

From governments to NGOs to the private sector and education policy makers,  stakeholders in literacy and digital technology will reflect on ways to counter remaining challenges for the promotion of literacy as an integral part of lifelong learning within and beyond the 2030 Education Agenda.

The objectives of this international conference will be to: deepen understanding of what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate in a digital world and what this means for literacy teaching and learning; share and analyse promising practices with regard to policies, programmes, monitoring and evaluation as well as financing that advances literacy in a digital world; and explore how digital technologies can support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal 4, especially Target 4.6 on youth and adult literacy.

UNESCO: digital tools create opportunities to achieve SDG 4

“Traditionally, literacy has been considered a set of reading, writing and counting skills applied in a certain context,” Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova noted on the occasion of International Literacy Day, adding that “digitally-mediated knowledge societies are changing what it means to be literate, calling for new and higher-level literacy skills. At the same time, in return, technology can work to improve literacy development.”

Reminding that a large share of adult and youth populations all over the world, including developed countries, are inadequately equipped with the basic digital skills required to function fully in today’s societies and workplace, she stressed that “narrowing this skills gap is an educational and developmental imperative.”

EI: teachers can help bridge the digital gap among countries

“An important aspect of the right to education is literacy and basic education,” agreed Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, adding that to be literate is a pre-requisite for participation in today's world.

Acknowledging that literacy makes it easier for individuals to fulfil their obligations as citizens in a democratic society and to fight for and demand their rights, he underlined that “a high literacy rate is a pre-requisite for democratic development and economic growth in each society”, and is of a great importance for the empowerment of women in society.

The only long-term action that will eradicate illiteracy is the provision of high quality, free and compulsory education for all children, van Leeuwen also reminded.

He recognised that information and communication technologies (ICT) can be an important tool to improve teaching and learning, and ICT must be used as a tool to improve teaching and learning and make schools more effective.