One in four young people in developing countries are unable to read a sentence, according to a report, which warns that poor quality education has left a “legacy of illiteracy” more widespread than previously believed.
Research published on Wednesday by Unesco, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural body, suggests that 175 million young people lack even basic literacy skills. “Access [to education] is not the only crisis – poor quality is holding back learning even for those who make it to school,” said Unesco director-general, Irina Bokova, in a foreword to the 11th annual Education for All global monitoring report, which measures progress towards global goals. An estimated 250 million children are not learning basic reading and maths skills, according to the report, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school. This “global learning crisis” costs developing countries billions of dollars a year in wasted education funding, it warns.
Adult literacy has remained stubbornly high over the past decade, the report adds. In 2011 there were 774 million illiterate adults, a decline of 1% since 2000. This figure is projected to fall only slightly, to 743 million, by 2015. Ten countries – India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – account for almost three-quarters of the world’s illiterate adults, according to the report. Globally, almost two-thirds of illiterate adults are women, a figure that has remained almost static since 1990. If current trends continue, the poorest young women in developing countries are not expected to achieve universal literacy until 2072.