Attitudes, Approaches & Action - A Short Overview -


The Issue At Hand

Literacy is fundamentally important to human and economic development.

Literacy rates improved by 12% between 1990 and 2000, but these improvements are not consistent and have slowed down to 1% since then. Today, 757 million people cannot read or write.

To try and improve this, there are regional, national and global initiatives working to improve literacy through education, technology, early-age reading, teacher training, reading materials, and family and community engagement. However, more can be done.

As literacy is considered a problem on a national scale, people are more likely to act on initiatives at a national level. These efforts need to be amplified to a global audience.

The Importance Of Literacy

Literacy tends to fall behind other global issues, especially in places where literacy is relatively high or has little obvious affect on quality of life.

There is a direct link between literacy and other global development issues, such as poverty, hunger and unemployment. Each year, illiteracy costs a developed nation 2% of its GDP, an emerging economy 1.2% of GDP, and a developing country 0.5% of GDP.

In nations where a clear platform to get involved is evident, people consider literacy to be more important and are more likely to take action.

Because literacy is considered more important on a national level - people are 36% more likely to act to affect literacy in their own countries.

Literacy Vs Illiteracy

People interpret the terms “literacy” and “illiteracy” very differently.

People consider literacy as an essential aspect of developing education and abilities, whereas illiteracy is associated with poverty, unemployment and a lack of opportunity.

84% of people agree that literacy is a basic human right, while 82% believe illiteracy drives inequality.

Unemployment and poverty are considered the most damaging effects of illiteracy.

How Countries Measure Up

Literacy is a bigger concern in developing countries, where the rate of adult literacy is lower than in developed nations.

For example, people in India are five times more likely to take action than people in the UK, and are more than twice as likely to donate money and resources to literacy projects than people in ‘developed’ nations.

Similarly, people in Brazil and South Africa see literacy as a bigger global issue than those in the UK and USA, and are far more likely to take action around it.

There are already some international efforts to improve global literacy. Priority countries include India, the Philippines, and Ethiopia.

Global Efforts

It is important to help adult as well as childhood literacy at the same time.

USAID USAID (with UNICEF, Norad, DFID, Save the Children, and the Global Partnership for Education) plans to launch a Global Book Fund to get more reading materials where they are needed most.

Story Time Story Time in Asia distributes over 120,000 books to 2 million students across 17 developing countries in Asia.

African Library Project The African Library Project partners with book drives, local NGOs and governments in Sub-Saharan Africa to build libraries and donate books to them.

Yo Sí Puedo The Yo Sí Puedo program in Latin America and the Caribbean developed a system of video classes to promote universal literacy in the region.

Skills For Life Skills For Life in the UK provides free literacy, language, and numeracy training to all adults without a Level 2 qualification.

International Literacy Association The International Literacy Association runs regional literacy, including a pan-African conference in South Africa and a Latin American conference.

Library of Congress Literacy Awards The annual Library of Congress Literacy Awards provide a $50,000 grant to one exceptional literacy program abroad through its International Prize.

WISE Awards The WISE Awards funded by the Qatar Foundation funds innovative education programs each year.


Initiatives to improve literacy include competitions, research networks, campaigns and communities of practice.

Activities include grant-making, publicising resources, conducting advocacy and organising working groups.

Literacy funding is weighted towards early-years development. While it is vital to encourage these key skills at a young age, parental engagement also has a positive effect on literacy outcomes.

Additionally, people are more likely to take action when they understand how their time and money is used, rather than by appealing to their emotional sides.

Project Literacy Partners

Pearson founded Project Literacy to bring the power of words to the 757 million people worldwide who are locked out of education due to poor literacy.
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Here, we have summarised research that was recently convened by Pearson and Project Literacy, in collaboration with PSB Research, to identify the state of literacy globally. Focus groups were conducted with over 3000 people in countries around the world, including the USA, UK, Brazil, India, South Africa and China.

Bring the power of words to the world.

Through Project Literacy, we aim to build partnerships and a global conversation for a more literate future. Find out more about how you can get involved in local solutions for #ProjectLiteracy. Visit projectliteracy.com to tell us your stories, help us ask the right questions and take action in your community.
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