(CNN)The need for a literate world is more important than ever.
In today's fast-paced digital landscape, the meaning of literacy has evolved beyond reading and writing. Literacy now affects all forms of communication and media, and the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the divide in access to literacy opportunities.
On International Literacy Day, here's what you should know.
Global literacy needs
While literacy rates have been increasing steadily -- UNESCO data shows that the youth literacy rate was nearly 92% worldwide in 2019, up from 77% in 1975 -- illiteracy remains a global problem. Worldwide, at least 773 million adults face literacy challenges, two-thirds of them women.
The Covid-19 pandemic has magnified these roadblocks and disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. In the early stages of the pandemic, school closures disrupted the education of 62% of the global student population, according to the United Nations. And with literacy programs suspended during this time, many with low literacy skills were unable to access essential information.
Virtual schooling also affected student literacy, according to the NWEA nonprofit education organization. Reading scores in the fall of 2020 had been largely on par with previous years, and researchers thought literacy might not be impacted so badly by the changes to schooling. But by spring 2021, reading scores were between 3 and 6 percentile points lower.
How International Literacy Day started
The day was first proposed during the 1965 World Conference of Ministers on the Eradication of Illiteracy in Tehran, Iran, under the recommendation that all countries observe September 8 as International Literacy Day.
The following year, the day was recognized by UNESCO and US President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed September 8, 1966, as International Literacy Day.
When is International Literacy Day?
International Literacy Day is a day to raise awareness about global literacy needs and celebrate literacy achievements. The day is observed annually on September 8, and the theme for International Literacy Day 2021 will focus on "Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide," according to UNESCO.
To help combat the literacy divide, UNESCO issued a new plan at its 40th General Conference in Paris. The strategy, which will be adopted through 2025, targets the most vulnerable countries currently facing literacy challenges with particular emphasis on disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees.