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Current Status + Progress
Literacy among youth is rising, but young women lag behind

Literacy rates among youth (aged 15 to 24) and adults are the test of an educational system, and the overall trend is positive, thanks to the expansion of educational opportunities. Globally, the youth literacy rate increased from 83 per cent to 89 per cent over two decades, while the number of illiterate youth declined from 168 million to 123 million. Regional and gender disparities persist, however. Literacy is lowest in least developed countries and higher among males than females. In the most recent years for which data are available, young women accounted for 61 per cent of the total illiterate youth population.

 

About 60 per cent of the countries and areas for which data are available have eradicated or nearly eradicated illiteracy among youth.  In several countries in West and Central Africa, however, youth literacy rates remain less than 50 per cent. These are countries that have struggled to increase school enrolment at both primary and secondary levels. However, even when universal primary education is within reach, some countries, such as Malawi and Zambia, show low youth literacy rates. This suggests that enrolment as well as retention in school is important, as is the quality of education.  

Literacy rates among youth are lowest in West and Central Africa and in South Asia
Youth literacy rate (percentage)

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics global databases, 2013, based on survey data for the most recent year available during the period 2005–2011. 

GENDER EQUALITY

In about two thirds of countries, literacy among youth is about the same for young men and women. In many countries, however, particularly in West and Central Africa and South Asia, illiterate women far outnumber their male counterparts.  The gender parity index stands at 0.77 and 0.85 for West and Central Africa and South Asia, respectively.  In Niger, the gender parity index is 0.44, meaning that there are 44 literate women for every 100 literate men. 

The gender gap in youth literacy is widest in West and Central Africa and in South Asia
Gender parity index (ratio of the number of literate female youths to the number of literate male youths)

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics global databases, 2013, based on survey data for the most recent year available during the period 2005–2011. 

Access The Data
Youth and adult literacy rates Download Data
Notes on the Data

For a full picture of children’s school participation, UNICEF uses two sources of data: enrolment data, which are based on administrative records, and attendance data from household surveys. In half of all countries, data on primary and secondary education come from more than one source.  All data on primary and secondary education used by UNICEF are based on official International Standard Classifications of Education (ISCED) and may deviate somewhat from those used by country-specific school systems. 

DEFINITION OF INDICATORS 

Gender parity index – The ratio of female-to-male values of a given indicator. A GPI of 1 indicates parity between the sexes.

Literacy rate – Total number of literate persons in a given age group, expressed as a percentage of the total population in that age group. The adult literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 years and older, and the youth literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 to 24 years.

Out-of-school population – Total number of primary or lower secondary-school-age children who are not enrolled in primary (ISCED 1) or secondary (ISCED 2 and 3) education.

Pre-primary school gross enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in pre-primary school, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official pre-primary school age.

Primary school gross enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in primary school, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official primary school age.

Primary school net attendance ratio – Number of children attending primary or secondary school who are of official primary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official primary school age. Because of the inclusion of primary-school-age children attending secondary school, this indicator can also be referred to as a primary adjusted net attendance ratio.

Primary school net enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in primary or secondary school who are of official primary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official primary school age. Because of the inclusion of primary-school-age children enrolled in secondary school, this indicator can also be referred to as a primary adjusted net enrolment ratio.

Secondary school net attendance ratio – Number of children attending secondary or tertiary school who are of official secondary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official secondary school age. Because of the inclusion of secondary-school-age children attending tertiary school, this indicator can also be referred to as a secondary adjusted net attendance ratio.

Secondary school net enrolment ratio – Number of children enrolled in secondary school who are of official secondary school age, expressed as a percentage of the total number of children of official secondary school age. Secondary net enrolment ratio does not include secondary-school-age children enrolled in tertiary education, owing to challenges in age reporting and recording at that level.

Survival rate to last primary grade – Percentage of children entering the first grade of primary school who eventually reach the last grade of primary school.

REFERENCES

  1. UNESCO, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012: Youth and skills – Putting education to work, UNESCO, Paris, 2012.
  2. UNESCO Institute for Statistics, global databases, 2013.
  3. UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Global Education Digest 2012, Opportunities Lost: The impact of grade repetition and early school leaving, UIS, Montreal, 2012.
  4. UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers: Every child counts – Revealing disparities, advancing children’s rights, UNICEF, New York, 2014.