Illiteracy: Costs and Solutions

By Brooke Edwards

October 3, 2019

Last Updated: September 8, 2015

Illiteracy: Costs and Solutions

It's hard to remember what it's like not to be able to read or write. My mom taught me to read fairly early, sitting me in her lap with a workbook titled Teach Me to Read. I didn’t appreciate those long hours at the time, but I’m certainly grateful for having had a literate mother who was able to teach me to read.

If you’re reading this (and you're age 15 or older), you’re among the 86.1 percent of the world’s literate population. Once you can read and write, it’s hard to relate to others who cannot.

It wasn't until I traveled to China that I re-experienced looking at text and not making sense of a single character. Many things were subtitled in English (sometimes hilariously so). But in the village we visited, that was a luxury not found. Of course, I was part of a well-shepherded group, so not being able to read signs was more of a curiosity than a problem.

For the roughly 775 million adults in the world who are illiterate, not being able to read or write creates many problems. 

Thirteen of the countries where we work have literacy rates below the global average. In Senegal, the female literacy rate is a meager 46.6 percent.

Illiteracy costs the global economy $1.19 trillion

As reading and writing is important for smallholder farmers and small business entrepreneurs, and because rural farmers often struggle to send their children to school, many of our projects incorporate literacy training. And since families who earn enough income to support their basic needs are more likely to send their children to school, our work both directly and indirectly contributes to improved literacy. 

We also support literacy with our Read to Feed program, which incentivizes reading while teaching youth about the issues of global hunger and poverty.

To learn more about International Literacy Day, visit the UNESCO website.