This Week in History


International Literacy Day Celebrated

For the week of Monday September 5, 2011

On September 8, 1966, International Literacy Day was celebrated for the first time. In November of the previous year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared this day to be International Literacy Day. Today, it brings global attention to the 798 million adults and 131 million youth worldwide that lack minimum literacy skills, the majority of whom are female.

South African children learning to read
© GreaterGood South Africa
Literacy forms the basis of the United Nations “Education for All” campaign, which aids in the causes of gender equality, education for better paid employment, and education for future generations. UNESCO recently released a project called The Alphabet of Hope. An anthology of works by a number of world famous authors, including Canadian Margaret Atwood, it aims to raise awareness for the need for literacy.

In Canada, programs that encourage literacy beyond the traditional education system have long been established. Organizations that provide such programs include, but are not limited to, ABC Literacy Canada, the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network, the Government of Canada’s Office of Literary and Essential Skills, Postmedia’s Raise-a-Reader campaign for children, World Literacy Canada, as well as a number of family literacy programs throughout the country. Perhaps the oldest organization is Frontier College. A pioneer in the field of adult education, Frontier College was created in 1899, as the Canadian Reading Association, the only national, non-denominational organization to provide education to workers in remote parts of Canada. A group of young “labourer-teachers” were sent to isolated lumber, mining, and railway camps across the country where they worked by day and taught other labourers by night. Today, this literacy organization is supported by a network of volunteers who tutor adults in the workplace, homeless street youth, prison inmates, people with disabilities, and newcomers to Canada.

A Frontier College classroom in 1912
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-061766
A number of historic events, persons and sites that are associated with the advancement of literacy in Canada, including the above-mentioned Frontier College, which was designated a national historic event in 1991. St. Ann’s Academy, Pictou Academy, and Craigflower Schoolhouse, the oldest surviving school building in Western Canada, have also been commemorated as National Historic Sites. Educators such as Mademoiselle Onésime Dorval, known as Saskatchewan’s “first certified teacher,” and Kahkewaquonaby (Reverend Peter Jones), the first to make Ojibwa into a written language, have been made National Historic Persons.

Pioneering authors Julia Catherine Beckwith Hart, Susanna Moodie, Gabrielle Roy, Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, Stephen Leacock, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Mohawk poet, Emily Pauline (Tekahionwakeh) Johnson, have been designated National Historic Persons. The homes of famous authors and intellectuals are recognized as National Historic Sites, most notably, Orillia, Ontario’s Stephen Leacock Museum / Old Brewery Bay, E. Pauline Johnson’s Chiefswood, located in Brantford, Ontario, and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s home from 1911-26, Leaskdale.

For more This Week in History stories on Canadian literature and education, please visit: Saskatchewan’s First Teacher, St. Ursula’s Convent and the birth of Canadian Literature, Canada Grieves for Mohawk Poet, ‘Sunshine Sketches’ of Stephen Leacock, Susanna Moodie: Pioneer and Writer, The Woman of a Million Books and “The Father of Canadian Literature.” Also visit UNESCO’s Education building blocks web page.
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