50TH LITERACY DAY: Literacy Rates Are On The Rise But .

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50TH ANNIVERSARY OF INTERNATIONALLITERACY DAY: Literacy rates are on the risebut millions remain illiterateUIS FACT SHEETSEPTEMBER 2016, No. 38To mark the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day on 8 September, this fact sheet presents thelatest available literacy data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and an overview of national,regional and global trends over the past five decades. The data show remarkable improvement amongyouth in terms of reading and writing skills and a steady reduction in gender gaps. 50 years ago, almostone-quarter of youth lacked basic literacy skills compared to less than 10% in 2014. However, 758 millionadults – two-thirds of whom are women – remain illiterate. Renewed efforts are therefore needed to reachthe new literacy target of the Sustainable Development Goals: “by 2030, ensure that all youth and asubstantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”. The data areavailable via the UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy, which features interactive maps and charts that can beshared and downloaded at http://on.unesco.org/literacy-mapGLOBAL LITERACY TRENDS TODAYAlthough literacy has been high on the development agenda over the past decades, UIS data show that758 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills, accordingto the latest available data for 2014 (see Table 1). 114 million of the illiterate population were between 15and 24 years old. The global adult literacy rate was 85% in 2014, while the youth literacy rate was 91%.TABLE 1. WHAT ARE THE LATEST LITERACY FIGURES?Global literacy rates and illiterate population of adults and youth, 2014IndicatorAdults(aged 15 years and older)Global literacy rateLiteracy rate, menLiteracy rate, womenLiteracy rate, gender parity indexGlobal illiterate populationIlliterate population, menIlliterate population, womenIlliterate population, share of women85.3%89.2%81.5%0.91758 million279 million479 million63%Youth(aged 15-24 years)90.6%92.6%88.6%0.96114 million47 million68 million59%Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016According to UIS data, the majority of countries missed the Education for All goal of reducing adultilliteracy rates by 50% between 2000 and 2015. At the global level, the adult and youth literacy rates areestimated to have grown by only 4% each over this period.With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN General Assembly inSeptember 2015, countries have pledged to achieve an ambitious new target for 2030: “ensure that allyouth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy”. Thestatistics in this fact sheet represent the baseline for measuring progress towards the SDG literacy target.In line with the new monitoring framework, all regional data presented here refer to SDG regions.

2UIS/FS/2016/38REGIONS WITH THE LARGEST ILLITERATE POPULATIONS AND COUNTRIES WITH THE LOWESTLITERACY RATESSouthern Asia is home to more than one-half of the global illiterate population (51%). In addition, 26% ofall illiterate adults live in sub-Saharan Africa, 7% in Eastern Asia, and about 4% each in Latin Americaand the Caribbean, Northern Africa, and South-Eastern Asia. Less than 4% of the global illiteratepopulation live in the remaining regions combined (the Caucasus and Central Asia, developed regions,Oceania, Western Asia).The lowest national literacy rates are observed in sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern Asia (seeFigure 1). Adult literacy rates are below 50% in the following 16 countries: Afghanistan, Benin, BurkinaFaso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania,Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. Youth literacy rates, for the population aged 15 to 24years, are generally higher than adult literacy rates, reflecting increased access to schooling amongyounger generations. Nevertheless, youth literacy rates remain low in several countries, most of them insub-Saharan Africa, which suggests problems with low access to schooling, early school leaving or apoor quality of education.FIGURE 1. WHERE ARE LITERACY RATES LOWEST AND HIGHEST IN THE WORLD?Adult literacy rate by country, 2014Youth literacy rate by country, 2014Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016

UIS/FS/2016/383Adult literacy rates are at or near 100% in most countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia and in thedeveloped regions (see Figure 2). Youth literacy rates are highest in the same two regions and inEastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South-Eastern Asia.FIGURE 2. HOW DO LITERACY RATES FOR MEN AND WOMEN COMPARE ACROSS REGIONS?Adult literacy rate by region and sex, 2014Youth literacy rate by region and sex, 2014Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016

4UIS/FS/2016/38GENDER GAPS PERSIST AMONG ADULTS BUT ALSO YOUTHFigure 2 displays the male and female literacy rates in each region. In the Caucasus and Central Asia,the developed regions, and Latin America and the Caribbean there is no or little difference between maleand female adult literacy rates. On the other hand, there are relatively large gender gaps to the detrimentof women in Northern Africa, Southern Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Asia. Among youth,gender disparities in literacy skills are generally smaller and improving more quickly over time; this isdiscussed in more detail in the section on trends over the past decades.The gender parity index (GPI), which is calculated by dividing the female by the male literacy rate,represents a different way of looking at the relative literacy skills of men and women. A GPI value below 1means that the female literacy rate is below the male literacy rate, while values between 0.97 and 1.03are generally interpreted to indicate gender parity. Figure 3 shows that three regions have achievedgender parity among adults and youth with regard to literacy: the Caucasus and Central Asia, developedregions, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Eastern Asia, South-Eastern Asia and Western Asia haveachieved gender parity for youth literacy but not for adult literacy.Three regions – Northern Africa, Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – are far from gender parity. InSouthern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, GPI values of 0.76 and 0.77, respectively, for the adult literacyrate indicate that women aged 15 years and older are nearly one-quarter less likely to be literate thanmen in the same age group. At the global level, women aged 15 years and older are 9% less likely to beliterate than men, and young women between 15 and 24 years are 4% less likely to be literate than youngmen.FIGURE 3. WHICH REGIONS HAVE REACHED GENDER PARITY IN ADULT AND YOUTHLITERACY?Gender parity index (GPI) by region, 2014Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016

UIS/FS/2016/385REGIONAL LITERACY TRENDS OVER THE PAST 25 YEARSProjections to 2015 by the UIS show that at the regional level, Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, SouthernAsia and Western Asia have made the greatest progress in improving adult literacy over the past 25years (see Figure 4). In Northern Africa, the adult literacy rate rose from 47% in 1990 to 77% in 2015. Forthe other regions, the change in adult literacy over the same period was as follows: Southern Asia from47% to 70%, Western Asia from 72% to 90%, and Eastern Asia from 79% to 96%.The youth literacy rate increased the most in Northern Africa (from 68% in 1990 to 95% in 2015) andSouthern Asia (from 60% to 87%). To a lesser extent, progress was also observed in all other regions forboth adult and youth literacy.Figure 4 also shows that female literacy rates – always lower than male literacy rates at the start of theperiod – generally grew faster than male literacy rates between 1990 and 2015 and gender gaps havetherefore shrunk in all regions over the past 25 years.FIFTY YEARS OF FOSTERING LITERACY: AN ACCOUNT OF PROGRESSBecause of limited coverage in the UIS database, an examination of trends in observed adult and youthliteracy is only possible for the period since 1990. For a longer perspective, it is possible to compareelderly literacy rates (for the population aged 65 years and older) in 2014 with youth literacy rates (for thepopulation aged 15 to 24 years) in the same year. The comparison reveals trends in youth literacy overthe past 50 years because the population 65 years and older today was 15 years and older in the mid1960s. The literacy rate of those 65 and older can therefore be used as an estimate of the literacy rate ofthose 15 and older five decades ago.1A focus on youth is appropriate because increasing literacy skills over time can be most readily observedamong this age group. Adult literacy rates change more slowly because most improvement in literacyoccurs through formal education at a young age. The literacy skills of the current elderly cohort may alsohave improved through participation in adult literacy programmes. However, such programmes rarelyreach the entire population of illiterate adults, and previous studies have stressed their limited effect onnational literacy figures.2 Literacy skills can also be lost over time due to a lack of practice, but the effecton aggregate literacy rates of an entire cohort is likely to be small. Another factor to consider is that thecomposition of today’s elderly population in a country – those aged 15 years and older 50 years ago –has changed over the years because of mortality and migration. Overall, the analysis in this section mayslightly underestimate progress over the past 50 years with regard to youth literacy, but the opposite isunlikely.YOUNG PEOPLE IN AFRICA AND ASIA ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE LITERATE THAN 50YEARS AGOAt the global level, progress over the past 50 years is evident because the youth literacy rate is 15percentage points higher than the elderly literacy rate (see Figure 5). In 2014, 91% of 15- to 24-year-oldswere reported to have basic literacy skills, compared with 76% of adults aged 65 years and older.From a regional perspective, the largest progress in literacy was seen in Northern Africa, followed bySouthern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with differences between youth and elderly literacy ratesamounting to 59, 45 and 37 percentage points, respectively. In Northern Africa, the youth literacy rate(91%) is almost three times as high as the elderly literacy rate (32%). Within the region, Algeria andTunisia made the most progress. In these countries, only 20% and 26%, respectively, of the elderlypopulation have basic literacy skills, compared with 94% and 97% of youth.12It would be more precise to compare the literacy rate of those aged 65 to 74 years with the literacy rate of thoseaged 15 to 24 years, but due to data constraints the entire population aged 65 years and older was used in theanalysis. 65- to 74-year-olds account for a large proportion of the entire population aged 65 years and older in allcountries.Hanemann, U. (2015). The Evolution and Impact of Literacy Campaigns and Programmes, 2000-2014. UILResearch Series: No. 1. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Lind, A. (2008). Literacy for All:Making a difference. Paris: UNESCO-IIEP. 5e.pdf.

6UIS/FS/2016/38FIGURE 4. HOW HAVE ADULT AND YOUTH LITERACY RATES CHANGED SINCE 1990?Adult literacy rate by region and sex, 1990-2015Youth literacy rate by region and sex, 1990-2015Note:Regions sorted by the projected literacy rate in 2015. 1990 data refer to the period 1985-1994, 2000 datarefer to the period 1995-2004, 2010 data refer to the period 2005-2014.Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016

UIS/FS/2016/387In Southern Asia, over twice as many individuals have basic literacy skills among the younger cohort(84%) compared with their elderly counterparts (39%). In the region, Bhutan and Nepal had the biggestincreases in youth literacy over the past 50 years. The elderly literacy rate is very low in both countrieswith only about one-fifth of youth (15% and 21%, respectively) being able to read and write 50 years ago.Both countries were able to make tremendous progress over the years to reach a youth literacy rate of87% and 85%, respectively, in 2014.In the Caucasus and Central Asia and the developed regions, the difference between the two literacyrates is small because most young adults were already literate 50 years ago, and both the youth andelderly literacy rates are at or close to 100% today.FIGURE 5. HOW DO ELDERLY AND YOUTH LITERACY RATES COMPARE?Elderly and youth literacy rate by region, 2014Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016Figure 6 displays the magnitude of the progress made by countries over the last 50 years. Countries witha very large difference between the literacy rates of youth and elderly cohorts experienced a majorincrease in youth literacy. They generally had very low levels of youth literacy 50 years ago and managedto widely expand the share of the population that is able to read and write. The biggest differencesbetween both rates – and thus the biggest improvements in youth literacy – are observed in sub-SaharanAfrica. Cabo Verde and Togo are among the countries that performed remarkably well: they went fromvery low youth literacy 50 years ago (current elderly rate of 33% and 18%, respectively) to a significantlyhigher share of youth with basic literacy skills (98% and 80%, respectively) in 2014, mainly due toincreased access to primary schooling. For reference, in 2014 the primary out-of-school rate in CaboVerde and Togo was 2% and 7%, respectively.

8UIS/FS/2016/38FIGURE 6. WHICH COUNTRIES MADE THE GREATEST PROGRESS IN YOUTH LITERACY?Difference between elderly literacy rate and youth literacy rate by country, 2014Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, June 2016LITERACY SKILLS IMPROVED MORE AMONG WOMEN THAN MENTable 2 shows the difference between the elderly and youth literacy rate by region and