15 Facts and Statistics for International Literacy Day

Thursday, September 8 marks the 50th anniversary of UNESCO’s International Literacy Day, a day marked to mobilize people and agencies around the world to work toward increasing literacy rates—and to use that increased literacy to empower global citizens and societies.

With resources and efforts being funneled into providing better education, we can see that progress is being made: according to the latest data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS), youth literacy rates have risen to 91% globally, though they remain at lower rates in developing and war-torn regions. There is also still a great discrepancy between the literacy rates of girls and boys in many places.

In developed nations, government funding, mandatory schooling for children and an education focused on literacy and numeracy have helped several countries achieve a nearly 100% literacy rate among its citizens. Here are 15 additional facts and statistics for International Literacy Day from the UIS:


On World Literacy:

  • The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea reported a 100% literacy rate among males and females aged 15-24 in 2015.
  • In developing nations, the literacy rate for girls aged 15+ has increased a mere 8% since 1999.
  • The Central African Republic reported the lowest literacy rates among its youth population at only 36.36% in 2010.
  • That same nation had a youth literacy rate of 60.81% ten years earlier.
  • In Bhutan, a dismal 14% of the senior population is considered literate.


On Libraries:

  • As of 2000, the United Kingdom reports having the most serviceable public library outlets at 21, 849.
  • Of reporting nations, Armenia had the highest ratio of registered library users at 2.087 million users. Their libraries provided more than 756,000 loans in 1999.
  • In 1998, the Russian Federation reported providing over one billion loans to its library users.
  • Between 1996 and 2000, only four reporting nations indicated an increase in the number of libraries available to their population.
  • The five nations reporting the lowest percentages of literacy among youth have no public libraries in operation.


On Education:

  • Compulsory education in the United States is 12 years, from age 6-17, but secondary education enrollment levels were only at 89% in 2014.
  • In 2013, 61.1 million primary-age children worldwide were not enrolled in school.
  • Only six countries reported at least a 99% completion of compulsory years of education among its school-age population in 2014.
  • In that same year, two of those six nations were excluded from that list when the data was based solely on female attendance numbers.
  • Indonesia had the highest reported number of students of lower secondary school age not enrolled in school, at 1.9 million.


Do you have a library card? What was the last book you borrowed from the library?

    Karen Green

    Karen Green is a freelance writer and big city ex-pat now living in rural Ontario. She writes for numerous print and online publications, and considers her library card to be one of her most valuable possessions.

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