African Students reading books

Africa Literacy Facts

For everyone everywhere, literacy is…a basic human right.

– Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General

African students reading books

Sub-Saharan Africa Literacy Facts:

• More than 1 in 3 adults cannot read.

• 182 million adults are unable to read and write.

• 48 million youth (ages 15-24) are illiterate.

• 22% of primary aged children are not in school.

• That makes 30 million primary aged children who are not in school.

• More than 75% of all children (ages 5-9) don’t go to school.

• Sub-Sharan African holds the highest number of illiterate youth.

What Is Literacy?

This is a simple question with a number of answers. For statistical purposes, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines a literate person as someone who can read and write a short, simple statement about their life. In recognizing literacy’s impact on poverty, health, active citizenship and empowerment, the development community recognizes that “illiteracy is a condition that denies people opportunity.”

Literacy rates are improving globally, but in terms of raw numbers, there are more people who suffer from illiteracy than there were 20 years ago. In Sub-Saharan Africa, youth literacy rates (ages 15-24) have increased over the past 20 years, which suggests that adult literacy rates will increase as those youth grow. However, youth literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa (70% in 2011) are the lowest of any region. For adults in Sub-Saharan Africa, the rates have improved by 10%, but there is a disparity between literacy for women and men. While 7 in 10 men can read, only half of the women can do so. One of the largest barriers to increasing literacy is the lack of books, especially in rural areas.

Literacy in Our Partner Countries

Building on rich oral traditions of storytelling, many of African Library Project’s partner countries have shown improved literacy rates over time with strong government investment in education.

Botswana, for example, increased its adult literacy rate from 69% in 1991 to 87% in 2008 and invests 19% of its government spending in education (compared to 13% for the US). Lesotho invests 13% of its GDP in education (compared to 5% in the US); and while this is the highest in Africa, public and school libraries are rare.

The hunger to read for pleasure, for information, and to supplement textbooks (when available) exists in the countries we serve because of the improving literacy rates and investments in education made over the years.

African Student reading a book

General Facts About Sub-Saharan Africa

• Population in 2021 was 1.137 billion.

• The average life expectancy is 60 years.

• 44% of people live below the international poverty line of $1.25/day.

• 63% of people have access to “improved” (adequate) water sources.

• 23.5 million people are living with HIV.

Why Support Literacy?

Literacy is an essential human right. Quality primary education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning. Literate parents are more likely to keep their children healthy and send their children to school. Literate people can better access other education and employment opportunities, and collectively, literate societies are better geared to meet development challenges.

How does ALP make a difference?

Through a dedicated network of volunteers and partners, we ship hundreds of thousands of gently used children’s books annually to create and improve hundreds of small libraries in several Sub-Sharan African countries, year over year. Since 2005, the African Library Project has created nearly four thousand small libraries across thirteen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, donating over four million gently used children’s books. Our book drive approach partly came from the reality that children’s books are vastly accessible to those who live in North America, where the children’s book publishing industry is steadfast. We also provide a hardcopy of our Teacher-Librarian Manual to each of our book recipients to provide guidance and support on how to manage and care for a library (an online version is available for download).

Past Summits

View photo albums and more!

2022 Virtual sessions

Due to COVID-19 policies and enforced travel restrictions, the 2022 Summit was held virtually as two mini sessions. This allowed us to invite everyone who supports our work to join. Although the virtual sessions do not come close to replacing the power of an actual in-person gathering, they did allow for our community to hear from our Malawi and Kenyan Partners to present about their country and best practices for their work. There was also time for an open dialogue for the entire community. 

The first session was hosted by the Malawi Partners in April 2022 (watch recording on YouTube) and the second session was hosted by the Kenyan Partners in November 2022 (watch recording on YouTube).