What is the literacy rate in Nepal

Background current

UNESCO has been celebrating World Literacy Day on September 8th every year since 1967. The organization currently has 750 million illiterate people. In many countries it is still a privilege to be able to read and write.

In Germany there are around 2 million people who can neither read nor write. The lack of reading and writing skills affects people in their everyday lives and can lead to exclusion. (& copy picture alliance / dpa topic service)

Literacy - the ability to read and write - is an important prerequisite for participation in social life. To commemorate the importance of literacy and adult education and to raise public awareness of literacy issues, the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) has been celebrating World Literacy Day on September 8th every year since 1967. This was launched in 1966 on the recommendation of the World Conference of Education Ministers to Eliminate Illiteracy, which took place in Tehran in September 1965.

What is illiteracy?

Adults who have little or no knowledge of the written language are generally referred to as illiterate. UNESCO lists all those people who lack basic literacy skills as illiterate.

A distinction is also made between different types of illiteracy: One speaks of "primary" illiteracy when a person has not acquired any writing or reading skills. "Secondary" illiteracy means that a person has learned to read and write in school, but has forgotten these skills after leaving school. In Germany there is also the term "functional illiteracy". It describes people whose reading and writing skills are insufficient to meet social requirements. However, since this term is based on the respective social environment, it cannot be compared internationally.

A global problem

According to data from the UNESCO Statistical Institute from 2016, there are around 750 million adults (older than 15 years) worldwide who cannot read or write. Almost two thirds of them are women, around 102 million are teenagers and young adults between 15 and 24 years of age. However, since the 1990s the proportion of people with at least basic literacy skills in the total population has improved significantly in most countries. In South Asia, for example, the literacy rate rose from 46 percent to 72 percent between 1990 and 2016. Despite these significant increases, almost half of all illiterate people worldwide still lived in South Asia in 2016.

The lowest literacy rate in the world was in the sub-Saharan Africa region in 2016 - only around 65 percent of all people in this region can read and write. In addition to North Africa, West and South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions with marked differences between the literacy of women and men.

Since the 1960s, however, there has been a greater increase in literacy among women than among men worldwide. This is particularly evident in women between the ages of 15 and 24, of whom almost 91 percent had at least basic reading and writing skills in 2016, while this was only the case for around 73 percent of older women. But even in countries with high incomes and educational standards, such as Europe, there is a significant number of functionally illiterate people, i.e. people with low literacy skills.

Literacy rate of the adult population
Adult literacy rates (15 years and older) by country. (& copy UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy, accessed on September 5, 2019, Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, available at https://tellmaps.com/uis/literacy/#!/tellmap/-1003531175)


The causes of illiteracy are very different. Poverty is one of the main reasons why people are denied access to reading and writing classes, as families cannot afford school fees or children have to contribute to family income from an early age. Fears, lack of support in the family or poor education policy can also be causes. Children are often not given sufficient individual support at school due to lack of staff or time. Gender discrimination also plays a role: all over the world, many girls and women are still not allowed to go to school.

Situation in Germany

According to a 2018 study by the University of Hamburg, around 6.2 million German-speaking adults (12.1 percent) between the ages of 18 and 64 are affected by functional illiteracy in Germany. H. they can only read and write individual sentences, but cannot grasp coherent texts. Around 62.3 percent of those affected in 2018 are gainfully employed. While 16.9 percent have a higher educational qualification, 22.3 percent have no school qualification.

Of the 6.2 million people affected, around 2 million are illiterate in the narrower sense, which means that they can read or write individual letters or words, but fail at the level of sentences. In contrast to the global average, the majority of people in Germany with poor literacy skills are men; their share is around 58.4 percent. Overall, fewer people in Germany are affected by functional illiteracy than a few years ago. In 2011, the previous study by the University of Hamburg identified around 7.5 million people affected, which corresponds to 14.5 percent of the adult population in Germany.

Efforts of the international community

Over the past 25 years, the international community has made repeated efforts to promote literacy among adults. At the first UNESCO World Conference on "Education for All" in March 1990, the participating countries set themselves the goal of reducing the adult illiteracy rate by around 2000 with the "Education for All" (EFA) world declaration 50 percent lower than in 1990. They confirmed their plan ten years later at the World Education Forum in Dakar. They agreed that the deadline for implementation was 2015.

However, the UNESCO World Education Report Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges concludes that the illiteracy rate fell from 18 percent in 2000 to an estimated 14 percent in 2015 between 2000 and 2015. This progress is mainly due to the fact that better educated young people are moving up in the adult statistics. The smallest decrease in the illiteracy rate was recorded in Guinea with one percent. Kuwait was the most successful: the proportion of people who cannot read and write declined by 83 percent in the same period.

The UNESCO report names various causes for the low success in the fight against illiteracy: For example, the goal of literacy was not explicitly anchored in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, which subsequently led to the topic being both international and international nationally neglected. In addition, there have been campaigns in many countries that tend to stigmatize illiteracy rather than create awareness of ways out. In addition, UNESCO points out the great importance of local languages ​​in literacy. The governments of many countries would not take these into account because they feared divisions or conflicts due to the diversity of languages.

In 2015, the world community committed itself to Goal 4 of the Global Sustainability Agenda to ensure that "all young people and a significant proportion of adults" will acquire sufficient reading, writing and arithmetic skills by 2030. In 2016, UNESCO also convened the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL). The GAL consists of representatives from UNESCO member states, regional organizations and representatives from civil society, science and business. The goals include promoting access to literacy programs for all age groups.

Literacy and multilingualism

The official UNESCO poster for World Literacy Day 2019 (& copy UNESCO)
On September 8, 2019, World Literacy Day will be celebrated under the motto "Literacy and multilingualism". This is to draw attention to the fact that the inclusion of linguistic diversity in education and literacy programs is of central importance. In addition, this year's World Day will be used to draw attention to the celebrations for the International Year of Indigenous Languages ​​2019.

In Germany, the so-called AlphaDekade, which aims to improve the reading and writing skills of adults in Germany, was launched in 2016. The program will initially run until 2026. The main challenge is the question of how adults with low literacy skills can be reached and activated for learning.

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