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Why Literacy?

Can you read this sentence? If so, you are literate.

Sometimes we take literacy for granted, but can you imagine what it would be like to not be able to read and write? To struggle to find your way in a new place because you can’t use the road signs? To not be able to send a text message on your mobile? To need to ask someone else to fill in a form for you?

Literacy is vital for people’s social, emotional, and economic wellbeing. It is key to a nation’s development. Yet there are still hundreds of millions of people around the world – especially in Low and Middle Income Countries, including India – who lack the key skills of reading, writing and doing basic arithmetic. Explore this page to understand why it is vital we achieve literacy for all.

Benefits of Literacy

Learning to read and write can make a big difference in people’s lives, at multiple levels:
  • Opening opportunities for further education. Learning basic literacy is the first step on this educational ladder. Children who struggle to read and write in school are more likely to drop out of school early, whereas literacy gives a solid foundation for their further schooling.
  • Expanding job opportunities. Uneducated people often struggle to find regular, decently paid work. Economically, there is a strong positive correlation between literacy and income level, with literate people earning an estimated 40-70% more than their illiterate counterparts.
  • Breaking inter-generational poverty. Poverty is an inter-generational cycle because illiterate, impoverished parents are often unable to provide their children with a good education. Parents who can read and write are more likely to send their kids to school, and are better able to.
  • Boosting self confidence. Illiterate people often experience shame and are vulnerable to exploitation. Literacy helps people feel more confident in themselves, more able to take initiative to improve their lives.
  • Health: Numerous studies have demonstrated the significant positive effects of literacy on public health and lowering infant mortality. In developing countries, a child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive past age 5, relative to a child born to an illiterate mother. Literate women also have more control over their reproductive rights, and lower fertility rates.
  • Political rights. Literate people are generally more able to access information about current events, make up their own mind, and engage in the political process. People who can read are also more able to access the government services to which they’re entitled.
These benefits to individuals, when translated to the national and international scale, mean a stronger economy, more robust democracy and better public health.


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A Global Literacy Crisis

There are over 750 million illiterate adults around the world today, two thirds of which are women. The number of illiterate adults has been stubbornly hard to decrease over the last 50 years.

The Covid crisis has severely disrupted education systems around the world, with the World Bank estimating that 70% of 10-year-olds in Low and Middle Income Countries are now in learning poverty – that is, unable to read a simple text with understanding. We urgently must ensure these children learn the key skills which will serve them well for the rest of their lives – or else risk losing another generation to illiteracy.

Illiteracy in India

India has by far the world’s largest population of illiterates: according to UNESCO, 250 million adults in India are illiterate. While literacy rates are growing (from 64% to 74% between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses), the rate of improvement is disappointingly slow. This lack of literacy has major negative consequences economically, politically and socially.

India has achieved near universal primary school enrolment rates. However, schools are often failing to make their students literate. The Annual Status of Education Report (2022) indicates that over half of Grade 5 students can’t read a Grade 2 text in their mother tongue. The fact that so many students are failing to learn the basics in school indicates the deep failings of our education system, showing the need for radical reform.

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