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

In Sub-Saharan Africa

• 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.

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 its 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.

African Facts Sheet

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 2012 was 913 million.

• The average life expectancy is 58 years.

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

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

• 25 million people are living with HIV/AIDS

Why Literacy?

Literacy is an essential human right. A good quality and basic 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 are able to better access other education and employment opportunities; and collectively, literate societies are better geared to meet development challenges.

Sources: UNESCO Institute for Statistics. “Adult and Youth Literacy” UIS Fact Sheet. September 2014; UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Adult and Youth Literacy: National, Regional and Global Trends, 1985-2015. June 2013; United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. MDG 2014 Report: Assessing Progress in Africa Towards the Millenium Development Goals; UNESCO Institute for Statistics Data Centre 2012;  CIA World Factbook; UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2014 In Numbers: Every Child Counts: Revealing Disparities, Advancing Children’s Rights; United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision; Carr-Hill, R., K. Frostell, and J. Pessoa. International literacy statistics: a review of concepts, methodology and current data. UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2008.

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