For most children, the ability to read and write is the very beginning of their education. So much is communicated through the written word that, for most people in the developed world, it is difficult to imagine life without it.

It was not always this way. The invention of writing can be traced back around 5,000 years to the pictographs of ancient Sumeria, where only a few privileged people had the skills to read it.

When the printing press was invented in the 15th century, it brought mass communication to Europe, sparking cultural revolutions and fuelling new ideas about society.

In 1820, only 12% of the world could read. Now, information is available to anyone with an internet connection — but 17% of the world’s population is still illiterate, including 122 million young people. Of those, around 60% are girls.

That matters: literacy helps to lift people and communities out of poverty; it boosts self-esteem and empowers women. It even reduces infant mortality.

Sunday is International Literacy Day, a time for governments and society to celebrate how far we have come, while reflecting on the challenges that still lie ahead. Why do you think literacy is important?

Read Our Stories


Watch this short animated video on the evolution of books that stretches back thousands of years. How have books shaped society? And why is it important that everyone has the skills to read them?


  1. Write a summary of you favourite book in the space of a tweet (280 characters or less).
  2. Create a timeline that shows some of the major developments in literacy through the ages.
  3. Write a book review of the last book you read.