Published 21st November 2017

More people can read now than ever. Which is an amazing success. But, after digging into the figures, we’ve discovered there are still some alarming literacy rates worldwide that simply cannot go unnoticed.

Global literacy stood at 87.26% in 1999, meaning 769 million people were illiterate. Fortunately, this number was down in 2016. But it’s still high. Unfortunately, 758 million people aged 15 and upwards remain illiterate according to UNESCO data, with the vast majority of them women.

The good news is there’s been a concerted effort to improve literacy among young people. And it’s working. A fantastic 91.4% of young people were able to read in 2015. Which is the work of that worldwide push to improve young peoples’ literacy abilities, particularly in the 15-24-year-old age bracket. 

As any EFL teacher knows, literacy is an essential part of life and learning, and the drive to improve the literacy rates among young people is much needed. Improved literacy standards mean that young people can go on to gain an education, hold down a job, and communicate efficiently and clearly across all sectors of society.

With literacy rates so low among the older population in certain areas of the world, teachers and educators bear the brunt of the responsibility for teaching and improving rates for the younger generation. Making learning fun, engaging with students in interesting and exciting new ways, and making English an approachable language is key for developing and enhancing young people’s lives.

It’s essential to take note that literacy rates have vastly improved in most of the countries included in the data. As our graphic shows, literacy rates in Asia have improved by 4.9% since 1999, with Africa not far behind at 4.4%. 

Browse our visual breakdown to see how genders and countries fare in terms of literacy improvement, including the most improved countries, and the ones which have declined.