UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday called on governments and their partners, including in the private sector, to join hands to promote universal literacy and build peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable societies -- a vision set out in the new global development agenda.

In his message to mark the International Literacy Day, the secretary-general said, ""This year, the world has embarked on implementing the ambitious and transformational 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With its 17 universal, integrated and interdependent Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 2030 Agenda is an action plan for people, planet, partnership and peace.""

""Literacy stands at heart of the 2030 Agenda,"" Ban said. ""It is a foundation for human rights, gender equality, and sustainable societies. It is essential to all our efforts to end extreme poverty and promote well-being for all people.""

The SDGs, approved by world leaders here last September, served as the blueprint for the global development efforts for the years up to 2030.

""That is why the Sustainable Development Goals aim for universal access to quality education and learning opportunities throughout people's lives,"" he said.

While significant progress has been made over the past five decades, the secretary-general noted. ""The world is still very far from universal literacy.""

Therefore, the secretary-general called on governments and their partners, including in the private sector, to ""join forces for universal literacy so we can translate the vision of the 2030 Agenda into reality and build peaceful, just, inclusive and sustainable societies.""

In his message, Ban said that with the world becoming increasingly digitized and information rich, new opportunities and challenges are emerging, with more than 750 million adults illiterate, two-thirds of whom are female and including 115 million young people.

Some 250 million children of primary school age lack basic literacy skills and 124 million children and adolescents receive no schooling at all, Ban said.

Such obstacles to sustainable development can and must be overcome by developing and implementing the right policies, backed up by commitment and resources, the UN chief said.

""We need to ensure that those out of school get access to quality learning opportunities, we need to improve the quality of schooling, and we need to promote adult education and learning,"" he said.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary since the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Sept. 8 as International Literacy Day in 1966 in order to actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.

This year's theme is ""Reading the Past, Writing the Future,"" and celebrates the past five decades of national and international engagement, efforts and progress made to increase literacy rates around the world. It also addresses current challenges and looks to innovative solutions to further boost literacy in the future, according to UNESCO.

Noting that this is the first year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, UNESCO stated on its website that in this context, the vision of literacy is aligned with lifelong learning opportunities with special focus on youth and adults -- literacy is a part of Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda.

Goal 4 aims to ""ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,"" and its target is that by 2030 all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.

""The world has changed since 1966 -- but our determination to provide every woman and man with the skills, capacities and opportunities to become everything they wish, in dignity and respect, remains as firm as ever,"" UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message for the International Day. ""Literacy is a foundation to build a more sustainable future for all.""

Meanwhile, Bokova also highlighted how those who are illiterate receive none of the benefits of globalization and suffer all its costs.

""These women and men are more vulnerable to ill heath, exploitation and human rights abuse. They are more likely to be unemployed and paid less,"" she said. ""Unable to read or write, they are held back from their full potential, and whole communities are locked into vicious cycles of poverty that lay the conditions for violence and strife.""

""Illiteracy remains synonymous with exclusion and poverty -- we must turn this around,"" she said.

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