Why is reading aloud important to literacy?

Background current

In 1966 UNESCO launched World Literacy Day. Since then, campaigns and events have been held annually on September 8th to draw attention to the spread of reading and writing skills. The organization currently has 750 million illiterate people worldwide. Two thirds of them are women. In many countries it is still a privilege to be able to read and write.

In Germany there are around 2.3 million people who can neither read nor write. The lack of reading and writing skills affects people in their everyday lives and can lead to exclusion. (& copy picture-alliance, dpa / Andrea Warnecke)

Literacy - the ability to read and write - is an important prerequisite for participation in social life. To commemorate the importance of literacy and adult education and to raise public awareness of literacy issues, UNESCO has been celebrating World Literacy Day on September 8th every year since 1966. This was brought into being on the recommendation of the World Conference of Education Ministers for the Elimination of Illiteracy, which took place in Tehran in September 1965.

What is illiteracy?

Adults who have little or no knowledge of the written language are generally referred to as illiterate. UNESCO lists all those people who lack basic literacy skills as illiterate.

In addition, a distinction is made between different types of illiteracy: One speaks of "primary" illiteracy when a person has not acquired any writing or reading skills. "Secondary" illiteracy means that a person has learned to read and write in school, but has forgotten these skills after leaving school. A person whose reading and writing skills are insufficient to meet social requirements is considered to be "functional" illiterate. Functional illiteracy is a relative term: it is based on the respective social environment.

A global problem

According to UNESCO, there are around 750 million adults (over the age of 15) worldwide who cannot read or write, almost two thirds of them are women. Most illiterate people live in South and West Asia (49 percent) and sub-Saharan Africa (27 percent). In these regions, the differences between the literacy of women and men are also very pronounced. According to estimates by the World Factbook for 2015, only around 12.6 percent of women in Afghanistan, around 11 percent in Niger and around 29.2 percent in Mali, for example, of women can read and write. But even in countries with high incomes and educational standards there is a significant number of people with low literacy skills: in France, Italy and Spain, for example, this affects around a quarter of all adults.


The causes of illiteracy are very different. Poverty is one of the main reasons people are denied access to reading and writing classes. Fears, lack of support in the family or poor education policy can also be causes. Children are often not given sufficient individual support at school due to lack of staff or time. Gender discrimination also plays a role: around the world, many girls and women are still not allowed to go to school.

The human right to education
In 1949 the United Nations enshrined the right to education in the Charter of Human Rights. Why is it that one in five people worldwide can neither read nor write? (& copy 2011 Federal Agency for Civic Education & ARTE)

Situation in Germany

According to a study by the University of Hamburg in 2011, around 7.5 million adults (14.5 percent) between the ages of 18 and 64 in Germany are affected by functional illiteracy. H. they can only read and write individual sentences, but cannot grasp coherent texts. Around 57 percent of those affected are gainfully employed and 12.3 percent have a higher level of education. Around 2.3 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 are considered to be completely illiterate in Germany. In contrast to the global average, the majority of illiterate men in Germany are men; their share is around 60 percent.

Efforts of the international community

Over the past 25 years, the international community has made repeated efforts to promote literacy among adults. At the first UNESCO World Conference on "Education for All" in March 1990, the participating countries set themselves the goal of reducing the adult illiteracy rate by around 2000 with the world declaration "Education for All" (EFA) 50 percent lower than in 1990. They confirmed their plan ten years later at the World Education Forum in Dakar. They agreed that the deadline for implementation was 2015.

The UNESCO World Education Report Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges concludes, however, that the illiteracy rate fell from 18 percent in 2000 to an estimated 14 percent in 2015 between 2000 and 2015. This progress is mainly due to the fact that better educated young people are moving up in the adult statistics. The smallest decrease in the illiteracy rate was recorded in Guinea with one percent. Kuwait was the most successful: the proportion of people who cannot read and write declined by 83 percent over the same period.

The UNESCO report names reasons for the low success in the fight against illiteracy: For example, the goal of literacy was not explicitly anchored in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, which subsequently led to the issue both internationally and nationally has been neglected. In addition, there have been campaigns in many countries that tend to stigmatize illiteracy rather than create awareness of ways out. In addition, UNESCO points out the great importance of local languages ​​in literacy. The governments of many countries would not take these into account because they feared divisions or conflicts due to the diversity of languages. With Goal 4 of the Global Sustainability Agenda, the global community committed itself in 2015 to ensuring that “all young people and a significant proportion of adults” will acquire sufficient reading, writing and numeracy skills by 2030. In 2016, UNESCO also convened the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL). The GAL consists of representatives from UNESCO member states, regional organizations and representatives from civil society, science and business. The goals include promoting access to literacy programs for all age groups.

Literacy and skills development

The official UNESCO poster for World Literacy Day 2018 (& copy UNESCO)
On September 8, 2018, World Literacy Day will be celebrated under the motto "Literacy and the promotion of skills". Because despite all the progress, literacy continues to be a major challenge, while at the same time the demands on professional skills are increasing rapidly. This year, the focus of World Literacy Day is therefore on holistic approaches that promote both literacy and the skills required in the world of work. The aim is to improve people's lives and work and to contribute to just and sustainable societies.

In Germany, the so-called AlphaDekade, which aims to improve the reading and writing skills of adults in Germany, was launched in 2016. The program will initially run until 2026. The main challenge is the question of how adults with low written language skills can be reached and activated for learning.

more on the subject