The Issue

Education is possibly the best tool we have for tackling poverty. Literacy is at the heart of education, and is a basic human right that we all deserve. When people have the chance to learn basic life and literacy skills economies grow faster and poverty rates decline. Everyone needs the opportunity to receive a quality education, yet despite this, 57 million primary aged children are not attending school, and 796 million adults cannot read or write.

  • One in five adults cannot read or write
  • 57 million primary aged children are not in school
  • 123 million young people are unable to read or write
  • Millions more are sitting in classrooms and receiving education of such a poor quality that it will do little to enhance their life outcomes


Global education promises

In 1948 education was set as a basic human right for every person and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This enforced the fact that every single person deserves the right to receive an education.

Over 60 years later this has still not become a reality, although world leaders have made several promises relating to education in this time. The most recent of these are the 2015 Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. They pledged to ensure that “by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling”.

Progress towards these goals has been slow and unproductive. At current rates, there could be more children out of school in 2015 then there are now, and the goal of Education for All could take over 75 years to achieve. But we firmly believe that with some hard work Education for All is possible!


What must be done?

At the World Literacy Foundation we firmly believe that with some hard work and a clear plan we will be able to achieve Education for All in our lifetime. There is no quick-fix solution to the crisis, and the problem will not be easily overcome. Working together is our best chance of exploring and developing solutions that will transform the lives of millions.

  • An extra 1.9 million teachers, and 4 million new classrooms are required in order to enable every one of the world’s children to receive an education
  • Around $16 billion is needed annually to improve education in the world’s poorest countries
  • School fees must be eliminated, particularly for low income earners
  • More teachers need to be trained and effectively retrained, to motivate those in the profession
  • Billions of dollars worth of books, learning resources, desks, chairs, lights and other equipment are needed to build new schools and improve the poor standards of existing schools

Conquering the global literacy crisis is not an easy task, but that does not mean that it cannot happen. Literacy is a human right, a tool for personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. It is the key to eradicating poverty, improving health and life expectancy, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable peace, democracy and development throughout the world.

The World Literacy Foundation will not rest until we address this crisis once and for all, and we need your help to achieve this.


What has been achieved?

The crisis in global education has been slowly improving over the last decade. School fees in many countries have been dropped, allowing some of the world’s poorest children to attend schools.

  • Almost 50 million more children have been given the opportunity to attend school in the last ten years
  • More girls are accessing school, and the gender gap is closing
  • Several counties have completely abolished school fees which has lead to a dramatic increase in school enrolments

Despite these achievements, overall progress in tackling global illiteracy has been far too slow. Much more needs to be done.


What can literacy achieve?

Basic literacy skills are imperative to conquering poverty and improving the standard of living for millions around the globe.  Each extra year of schooling a child completes will dramatically increase their earnings later in life.

  • Each year of primary schooling increases the wages people earn later in life by 5-15% for boys, and an even greater percentage for girls
  • Each additional year of secondary schooling increases an individual’s wages by 15-25%
  • No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40% of its adults able to read and write
  • Education is essential to improving health, halting the spread of HIV/AIDs, enabling families to better cope with illness and improving the life expectancy of the world’s poorest.

  • Seven million cases of HIV/AIDS could be prevented in the next decade if every child received an education
  • A child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5
  • One in three children who do not attend school live with a disability


Gender inequality

In many countries women and girls are the last to get the opportunity to learn. It is appalling that we allow this to occur in this day and age. If we are serious about combating global illiteracy we must address the gender inequality in global education.

Educating women and girls is acknowledged as the most influential and effective way to combat global poverty. Females who finish secondary school earn more money, have smaller, healthier families, and are more likely to educate their own children. This can break the cycle of illiteracy in one generation.

  • 36 countries have not achieved gender parity in primary education
  • Out-of-school girls are far less likely to be enrolled in primary education than out-of-school boys
  • Nearly two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are woman

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