In 2008, 796 million adults worldwide (15 years and older) reported not being able to read and write and two-thirds of them (64%) were women (see Table 1). The global adult literacy rate was 83%, with a male literacy rate of 88% and a female literacy rate of 79%. More than half of those unable to read and write – 412 million – lived in Southern Asia. A further 176 million adults were in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, these two regions accounted for three-quarters (74%) of adults unable to read and write worldwide.
Learn more on UNESCO’s Literacy Factsheet.
I’ve never thought much about illiteracy before, never really realized what high illiteracy rates meant in application. Now that I live in Cambodia (one of those Southeast Asian countries that account for more than half of the illiterate population), I am continuously surprised by those who cannot read and write. When flipping through my translation dictionary or asking someone to write down a phrase I didn’t understand to show my language teacher, many of the adults simply don’t understand. They then have to seek out one of the few adults in my community who read and write or one of the school-age children. I suppose that’s where the hope is, though: all the kids whom I’ve met do have such an ability.