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What Percentage Of The Global Population Is Literate?

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Every September 8, since 1967, the world celebrates International Literacy Day. A day meant to emphasize and promote education at a time when the world is shifting to a global village, and education is uniting populations. The global literacy rate has risen over the years as the youth across the world embrace education, and the education gender gap has steadily reduced. However, two-thirds of the more than 750 million illiterate adults are women. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seeks to ensure the entire world is literate by 2030. About 86% of the global population above 15 years is literate, while 91% of youth between 15 and 24 years are literate. About 78% of adults aged 65 and above can read and write. More men than women are literate, but the disparity gap is declining as the world embraces education for both genders. In 2000, the Education for All program (EFA) set 2015 as the deadline to increase global literacy by 50%, but most countries missed out on the target.

Regional Imbalance In Literacy Rates

Half of the global illiterate population is in Southern Asia, while 27% is in sub-Saharan Africa, 10% in Southeastern and Eastern Asia, 9% in Western Asia, and North Africa, while 4% is in the Caribbean and Latin America. Central Asia, North America, Oceania, and Europe jointly account for less than 2%. Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are the least literate regions. Youth between 15 and 24 are the most literate across the world, owing to an increase in education among the younger generation. North America, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Central Asia have the most literate populations as most countries report over 95% literacy among youth and adults below the age of 65.

Gender Imbalance

South Asia, Western Asia, and Africa are far from reaching gender parity in education. Men throughout the world are accessing more and better education than women, but the gender gap in these regions is more pronounced than Europe, Central Asia, and North America. On average, women above 15 years are one-fifth less likely to be educated compared to men in the same age group. Cultural traditions, early marriage, poverty, and inadequate education facilities are to blame for this disparity. Europe and North America have the least variation as women and men between 15 and 24 years receive an equal education.

Literacy Trends

Northern Africa, southern Asia, South-eastern Asia, Western Asia, and Eastern Asia have made significant progress in adult literacy compared to the 1990s. Within the period, southern Asia recorded the most considerable stride from 46% to 72%. Youth is the key to population literacy as educated parents are more likely to educate their children. Youth between 15 and 24 are the most literate throughout the world as literacy occurs through formal education, unlike adult literacy programs that may not be accessible to all illiterate adults. Literacy skills may be lost over time due to lack of practice, although this affects a small portion of the population, particularly those above the age of 65. Youth in Africa and Asia are more educated than they were in the past. On a global scale, the literacy of youth has risen from 13% to 91% compared to 50 years ago.

Literacy in Central Asia

Central Asia is the most literate region of the world, with over 99% of youth and adults of both sexes possessing the ability to read and write. Countries in this region are Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. Literacy in Central Asia is attributed to free basic education from preschool to primary school, and the government policy of ensuring 100% enrollment. Central Asia became independent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and immediately focused on education as a vital component of the economy. At the start of the millennium, and ten years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the countries were already reporting literacy levels of about 95%.

The Future Of Literacy

As of 2018, over 750 million adults, including more than 100 million young people between 15 and 24 years, could not read or write a simple sentence and were considered illiterate. The Millennium Development Goals seek to change this and ensure universal youth literacy and a global literacy rate of over 90% by 2030. The new target requires a comprehensive approach to monitor progress and support policymaking at the state level. Access to education is the key to literacy, especially among the younger generation. Despite the gains made and the promising future, there are hindrances to total global literacy, including wars, poverty, and displacement of populations.

What Percentage Of The Global Population Is Literate?

IndicatorAdults (aged 15 years and older)Youth (aged 15-24 years)Population aged 25-64 yearsElderly (aged 65 years and older)
Global literacy rate (%)
Both sexes86918678
Men90939083
Women83908273
Gender parity index0.920.960.920.87

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