Literacy Statistics

Young cambodian children sitting at school desks

© 2012 Sopheak Kong/World Vision

The Facts

  • More than 90 percent of primary-age children in low-income countries and 75 percent of children in lower-middle income countries – more than 330 million children – are not expected to read or do basic maths by the end of primary school.1
  • 57 million primary school-age children are out of school.2
  • In 2015, illiteracy cost the global economy $1.2 trillion, perpetuating poverty in many parts of the world.3 
  • If all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12% cut in world poverty.4
  • Globally, one year of school increases earnings by 10%, on average.5
  • If all women completed primary education, there would be 66% fewer maternal deaths.6

Once equipped with the power of reading, children will have greater opportunities, become life-long learners, and realize their full potential.


  1. UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2017). More Than One-Half of Children and Adolescents Are Not Learning Worldwide. Fact Sheet. Paris: UNESCO. [Accessed 26 January 2018]. 
  2. UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, Policy Report 10. (July 2013)
  3. World Literacy Foundation, The Economic & Social Cost of Illiteracy. (August 24, 2015)
  4. UNESCO Global Monitoring Report 2013/2014 pg. 13
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid, pg. 15
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