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Outline script for assembly leaders

Coinciding with the start of the school year in many countries, this day aims to increase awareness of illiteracy

The military police had arrived in Ashuq's Sudanese village. A police officer stood over him, waving a piece of paper with typing on it. "Sign here," he said. Ashuq was afraid. "Don't worry," said the policeman, his hand on his holster. "It's just routine." Ashuq made a mark on the paper.

For days afterwards, Ashuq worried. Had he signed a confession? Had he betrayed his family? Had he agreed to join the army? For, although Ashuq knows how to write an "A" for his name, he cannot read or write, and he doesn't recognise the numbers one to 10.

More than one billion adults in the world are in the same position as Ashuq. Two-thirds of these are women. Being literate, being able to read, write and count is increasingly important for everyone in the modern world.

These skills are necessary for survival. Without them, there is no escape from poverty and ignorance and no real development in the poorest countries.

International Literacy Day (founded in 1967) highlights the needs of illiterate people. It is important not just in poor and undeveloped countries. It exists to persuade people in richer countries to share the gift of literacy and to develop literacy programmes abroad. It is now linked to International Adult Learners' Week, which runs a "Sign Up Now" campaign each September and promotes the sharing of learning around the world.

Follow-up

* Compile a list of things you can't do when you are illiterate. Older students might devise, write and illustrate home-made books that teach younger pupils to read, or devote time to storytelling or reading with younger children.

* Conduct a "readathon" to raise funds for a community programme or to provide books suitable for nurseries.

* Invite parents or other guests who have worked abroad to talk about literacy needs and problems in countries they know.

* Develop internet links with schools abroad.

* International Literacy Day is promoted by Unesco www.unesco.org * National Literacy Trust (logo above) is at www.literacytrust.org.uk * The national organisation for adult learning (NIACE) encourages adults to participate in learning programmes.Tel:0116 204 4200 www.niace.org.uk

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