08 July 2007

Adult literacy rates

In June 2007, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) released its latest literacy statistics, covering the years 1985 to 2005. In a change from literacy statistics released in previous years, UIS only reports on observed literacy and no longer uses proxy variables like educational attainment. The UIS database contains two sets of literacy rates:
  • Youth literacy rate: the share of the population aged 15 to 24 years that is literate.
  • Adult literacy rate: the share of the population aged 15 years and older that is literate.
Both literacy rates are reported at the national and regional level. The adult literacy rate is available for 137 countries, shown in the map below. It ranges from 23.6 percent in Burkina Faso to 99.8 percent in Cuba. For 71 countries, the adult literacy rate is unknown but most of these countries are industrialized and literacy can therefore be assumed to be at a high level.

Adult literacy rates by country
World map with adult literacy rate by country
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Data Centre, June 2007.

Among countries with data, the highest literacy rates are observed in Eastern Europe, East and Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Virtually all countries in these regions have literacy rates above 80 percent. Some countries in Africa also report adult literacy rates at such a high level. In 57 countries worldwide, more than 90 percent of the adult population are literate. 31 countries have literacy rates between 80 and 90 percent.

The lowest literacy rates are observed in Africa and South Asia. In 6 countries, fewer than 3 out of 10 adults are literate: Burkina Faso (adult literacy rate 23.6 percent), Mali (24.0), Chad (24.7), Afghanistan (28.0), Niger (28.7), and Guinea (29.5). In 10 countries, the adult literacy rate is between 30 and 50 percent: Benin (34.7), Sierra Leone (34.8), Ethiopia (35.9), Mozambique (38.7), Senegal (39.3), Bangladesh (47.5), Central African Republic (48.6), Nepal (48.6), Cote d'Ivoire (48.7), and Pakistan (49.9).

In India, the second most populous country in the world, only 6 out of 10 adults are literate (literacy rate 61.0 percent). In China, the country with the largest population, many more people can read and write, with an adult literacy rate of 90.9 percent.

The complete set of literacy statistics is available at the UIS Data Centre.

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External links
Friedrich Huebler, 8 July 2007 (edited 22 July 2007), Creative Commons License
Permanent link: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2007/07/adult-literacy-rates.html

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