The 8th of September is celebrated the world over as the International Literacy Day. The day was first celebrated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1967 to highlight the importance of literacy and raise awareness of the right to education and literacy as fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The day is also used to highlight the importance of literacy to human dignity and to ensure that everybody, particularly adults and youth, are able to read and write in a language that they understand. The day is also used to advocate for the eradication of illiteracy and ignorance. The day has since been celebrated each year by member states of UNESCO all over the world.

The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide’. Illiteracy is still a matter of great concern, particularly in contemporary times where the quest to access or disseminate information is so strong. The ability to read and write in this digital era is even more critical, given the need for one to understand and appreciate issues pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the maze of information and misinformation that one is confronted with, and the imperative need to distinguish the truth from the falsehood in order to make informed decisions.

It is estimated that more than seven hundred and seventy million adults worldwide cannot read and write. Comparatively, the situation is even worse in developing countries and a lot of effort is needed to address this challenge. Generally, a person’s ability to read and write helps in knowledge acquisition, empowerment, improved livelihood, effective communication, and better appreciation of issues.

Ghana has its fair share of adults and youth who can neither read nor write in either English language or their basic language. Many people cannot read and understand basic instructions on medicines, road signs, operational/instructional manuals, and other directional signs. The quantum of rejected ballot papers which have been recorded in our general elections is simply mind boggling.

One of the reasons could be that some voters cannot read or understand simple voting instructions. Unfortunately, the problem is not peculiar to only adults. The periodic national Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) conducted by the National Education Assessment Unit (NEAU) increasingly show that a good number of children in Basic schools cannot read and write. If no intervention is put in place to help such children, they may grow up to become ‘educated illiterates’.

It is to help address these challenges and promote reading among adults and children that many governmental bodies, including the Ministry of Education and its agencies such as the Ghana Book Development Council, Ghana Library Authority, Non-Formal Education Division, and other non-governmental bodies and individuals have been engaged in diverse interventions to get children and the youth to develop the habit of reading and writing.

As the world celebrates the International Literacy Day, the Ghana Book Development Council calls on all adults and children to help eliminate illiteracy in Ghana by developing the habit of reading at least, one book every month. By so doing, we would help make our country a reading nation and a literate society for sustainable development. Have you read a book today?

The writer is the Executive Director, Ghana Book Development Council

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