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among 10 countries with the worst Literacy rate in the world
to UNICEF, IDD “takes its greatest toll in impaired mental growth
and development, which contributes to poor school performance,
reduced intellectual ability, and impaired work performance.” In
Barely anyone — one to two percent of the population — could read in
ancient Rome and nobody thought
more people should. Now we recognize that literacy is a human right;
that being able to read and write is personally empowering and, in a
world that relies more and more on technology, simply necessary.
Nonetheless, millions of children, the majority of whom are girls,
still never learn to read and write today. This Sunday, September 8,
is International Literacy Day, an event that Unesco has been
observing for more than 40 years to highlight how essential literacy
is to learning and also “for eradicating poverty, reducing child
mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and
ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.”
774 million people aged 15 and older are illiterate, an infographic
from Unesco details. 52 percent (pdf) live in south and west Asia
and 22 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.
The latter region is where most of the countries with the lowest
literacy rates in the world are located, according to data from the
1. Burkina Faso:
21.8 percent of the adults in this West African country are
2. South Sudan:
This country in east Africa, which
became an independent state in 2011, has a literary rate of 27
28.1 percent of this country’s population are literate with a far
higher percentage of men (43.1 percent) than women (12.6 percent)
able to read.
The ratio of men to women in this landlocked western African country
is also lopsided: the literacy rate is 42.9 percent for men, 15.1
percent for women and 28.7 percent overall.
5. Mali: Niger’s neighbor on the west, the literacy rate
is 33.4 percent. 43.1 percent of the adult male population can read
and 24.6 percent of the country’s women.
6. Chad: This
west African country is
Niger’s neighbor on its eastern
border; 34.5 percent of its population is literate.
7. Somalia: Long
beset by civil war and famine, 37.8 of
Somalia’s population is literate.
49.7 percent of the adult male population is literate but only 25.8
percent of adult females.
8. Ethiopia: Somalia’s neighbor to the north, the literacy
rate in Ethiopia
is 39 percent.
41 percent of this west African country’s population is literate.
More than half (52 percent) of adult males are literature and only
30 percent of women.
10. Benin: 42.4
percent of Benin in West Africa
Around the world, two-thirds of adults who are illiterate are
female, meaning that there are 493 women unable to read and write.
54 of the 76 million illiterate young women come from nine
countries, most in south and west Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and
not necessarily those with high rates of adult illiteracy: India
(where almost 30 million young women are illiterate), Pakistan,
Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the
United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt and Burkina Faso.
Why Literacy Is a Human Right
Those who cannot read and write are “destined to be on the social
and economic margins of our world,” Unesco reminds us. Being able to
read and write has profound benefits not only on a person’s
educational opportunities but also for their health, economic
prospects and their children.
My late grandmother, who emigrated from southern
in the early 20th century, never learned to read or write anything
beyond her first and last name. She relied completely on her
children or grandchildren to read the instructions on a bottle of
medicine, to open her mail and pay her bills. Once when she was in
her 90s and still living alone in Oakland Chinatown, a strange man
knocked on her door, showed her some official-looking documents and
insisted that he had to enter her house. She shut the door in his
face and immediately called my dad.
Had my grandmother been able to read the papers the man had in his
hand, she could have known what he was up to. As a girl in rural China at the
start of the previous century, no one gave a thought to teaching her
to read or write. She worked for most of her life (she was still
sewing piecework for clothing manufacturers into her 90s). Like many
older adults, she simply never had time to devote her energies to
learn to read and write.
In 2010, the literacy rate was higher for young people (89.6
percent) than for adults (84.1 percent), according to a report from
Unesco (pdf). It’s essential that as many children as possible go to
school, learn to read and write and acquire the numeracy skills
necessary to thrive in our technology-drive world. This year’s
International Literacy Day is specifically dedicated to “literacies
for the 21st century,” in recognition that we not only need to need
to provide “basic literacy skills for all” but also “equip everyone
with more advanced literacy skills as part of lifelong learning.”
Last year’s assassination attempt of Pakistani teenage educational
activist Malala Yousafzai highlighted the immense challenges faced
by young women in parts of Asia to
acquire an education. It is all the more imperative to get behind
efforts like Unesco’s Education For All movement, which strives to
provide a quality basic education for all children, youth and adults
and, therefore, to give as many as possible the best possible
foundation for their future.
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