Urgent Asia-Pacific goal as US$14 billion needed to achieve universal literacy in key countries

Urgent Asia-Pacific goal as US$14 billion needed to achieve universal literacy in key countries

Paris: The majority of youth and adults with poor literacy live in the Asia-Pacific region, with approximately 80 percent of all illiterate youth and adults living in the “E-9 countries”, comprising Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan. Collectively these countries are home to more than half the world’s population and 70 percent of illiterate adults.

A new UNESCO cost analysis shows that US$14 billion will be needed if the 20 countries with the lowest literacy rates and the E-9 countries are to achieve functional literacy and numeracy skills by 2030. The analysis highlights a funding gap of US$10 billion in the 20 countries with adult literacy rates below 50 percent and US$4 billion among the E-9 countries, where the majority of the youth and adults with low literacy levels live.

‘Of the approximately 750 million illiterate adults worldwide, 565 million live in 29 countries,’ said David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. ‘Even if an increase in domestic resources with 5 percent of the GDP being allocated to education and 3 percent of the education budget invested in literacy is taken into account, these countries will only achieve universal literacy by 2030 with the support of the international community. This analysis shows how far we still have to go in meeting this target, in line with commitments made by world leaders as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. I call on donors worldwide to contribute to closing the current funding gap of US$14 billion.’

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) presents this new cost analysis to the members of the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy at a meeting at UNESCO in Paris, on 10 September 2019. The study is authored by UIL, the UNESCO Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in collaboration with the Global Education Monitoring Report team.

The authors of the study also underline that while basic data on literacy-related costs exists, there is a strong need for further data collection and research in order to enable well-informed decision-making in regards to the expansion of literacy programmes. 

In addition to increased funding from both national governments and international partners, there is a need to enhance the coordination, planning, management and monitoring capacities of literacy management systems. The creation of a well-functioning literacy management system that coordinates all stakeholders will be a major challenge in many countries, the study found.

Technical notes

  1. The calculated costs above comprise the annual salary for instructors and are based on the estimation of 500 contact hours per learner, as estimated by the expert panel of the study.
  2. The 20 countries with literacy rates below 50 per cent are Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.
  3. The E-9 countries are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan. 

Download: 2019 UNESCO literacy cost analysis

Background on the Global Alliance for Literacy

UNESCO launched the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL) in 2016 to advance global literacy efforts as part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. GAL fosters and coordinates a partnership of 29 countries towards concerted action on youth and adult literacy. As Secretariat of GAL, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning coordinates its work.

Press contact

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