People have been reading and writing for over 5,000 years. The first known books originated in Rome around 23BC.

At first, books were precious and rare objects. They were made using valuable materials and each one was handwritten. Only a small number of people learnt to read and write.

With the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century, books became more common. Suddenly, millions had access to printed literature, so reading and writing rates soared. In 1450, literacy rates in Europe were around 7%.

Today, over 85% of the world’s population can read and write. Millions of books are printed every year, and anyone with an internet connection has access to information, education, and news online. Thirty nations have a literacy rate of over 99%, with the highest reported in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at 100%.

For 775 million adults worldwide, though, basic literacy remains a struggle. Two-thirds of those people are women. While literacy rates are high in the UK, the National Literacy Trust found in 2019 that over 380,000 British children do not own a single book.

This Tuesday is International Literacy Day. It is a chance for people to reflect on the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and a human right. How will you mark it?

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What is literacy? How important is it? What would life be like without reading or writing? This week’s assembly answers these questions and many more.


  1. Design your own bookmark and start using it when you start reading a new book.
  2. Research more facts about literacy levels around the world, and include them in a poster to promote International Literacy Day.
  3. Imagine you have to give a talk about the power of literacy. Write the speech explaining how the ability to read and write makes you powerful.