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National, regional and global literacy trends, 1985-2015

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) has released a new report on literacy (UIS 2013). The report, Adult and Youth Literacy: National, Regional and Global Trends, 1985-2015, contains a comprehensive overview of literacy data for 151 countries and territories from seven regions: Arab States, Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Western Europe, South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. A summary of the most recent literacy rates and estimates of the illiterate population is accompanied by historical data for the period since 1985 and projections to 2015, the target year of Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals.

The table and figure below present adult literacy rates, for the population 25 years and older, at the regional and global level between 1990 and 2015. In spite of persistent illiteracy in some parts of the world - see the article "Adult and youth literacy in 2011" - the adult literacy rate has increased in all regions since 1990. The global adult literacy rate grew from 76% in 1990 to 82% in 2000 and 84% in 2011, the most recent year with data. (In the report, 1990 data refer to the period 1985-1994, 2000 data to the period 1995-2004, and 2011 data to the period 2005-2011.)

Progress at the regional level has varied. In three regions - Arab States, South and West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa - approximately half of all adults were illiterate in 1990. In the Arab States, the adult literacy rate increased by 22% between 1990 and 2011. In South and West Asia, the adult literacy rate increased by 16% over the same period. In sub-Saharan Africa, progress was much more modest, with an increase in the adult literacy rate of only 6%. East Asia and the Pacific is approaching universal adult literacy, and Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia were already near universal literacy in 1990. No regionally representative data are available for North America and Western Europe.

Adult literacy rate (population 25 years and older) by region, 1990-2015
Region Adult literacy rate (%)
1990 2000 2011 2015 projection 2015 target
Arab States 55.2 67.5 76.9 79.2 83.8
Central and Eastern Europe 96.0 97.4 98.5 98.0 98.7
Central Asia 97.9 99.0 99.5 99.6 99.5
East Asia and the Pacific 81.9 94.5 94.7 95.8 95.8
Latin America and the Caribbean 85.7 89.7 91.6 92.8 94.9
North America and Western Europe - - - - -
South and West Asia 46.7 58.9 62.8 70.4 79.5
Sub-Saharan Africa 53.2 57.2 59.1 63.6 78.6
World 75.7 81.9 84.1 86.1 91.0
Note: 1990 data are for the period 1985-1994, 2000 data are for 1995-2004, 2011 data are for 2005-2011.
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). 2013. "Adult and Youth Literacy: National, Regional and Global Trends, 1985-2015". UIS information paper. Montreal: UIS. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/literacy-statistics-trends-1985-2015.pdf.

The EFA goals, adopted at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, call for a "50% improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015" (UNESCO 2005). For monitoring, this goal is typically interpreted to mean a reduction of the adult illiteracy rate by 50% between 2000 and 2015. EFA goals were set for countries, not regions, but for the analysis in the UIS report, target values were also calculated at the regional and global levels. At the global level, for example, halving adult illiteracy between 2000 and 2015 implies a target adult literacy rate of 91% for the year 2015.

Adult literacy rates are projected to increase in almost all regions between 2011 and 2015. The exception is Central and Eastern Europe, where projections indicate a small drop in adult literacy. The global adult literacy rate is projected to reach 86% in 2015, meaning that the target literacy rate would be missed by 5%. As the figure below shows, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to be furthest from the 2015 target, with an estimated adult literacy rate of 64%, 15% below the target of 79%. South and West Asia is projected to reach an adult literacy rate of 70% in 2015, 9% below the target for 2015. Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific are projected to reach or come within one percentage point of the 2015 target.

Adult literacy rate (population 25 years and older) by region, 1990-2015

Notes: (1) Regions sorted by the projected literacy rate of the adult population in 2015. (2) 1990 data are for the period 1985-1994, 2000 data are for 1995-2004, 2011 data are for 2005-2011.
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). 2013. "Adult and Youth Literacy: National, Regional and Global Trends, 1985-2015". UIS information paper. Montreal: UIS. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Documents/literacy-statistics-trends-1985-2015.pdf.

The UIS report contains more detailed information on adult literacy rates and the adult illiterate population, youth literacy rates (for the population 15-24 years) and the youth illiterate population, historical trends and projections to 2015, a summary of UIS methodology in the area of literacy, and an annex with six statistical tables and 151 figures with national literacy data.

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External links

Friedrich Huebler, 27 October 2013, Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2013/10/literacy.html

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