According to UNESCO, in the world today there are about one billion illiterate adults:

  • This one billion is approximately 26 per cent of the world’s adult population
  • Women make up two-thirds of all illiterates
  • 98 per cent of all illiterates live in developing countries
  • In the least developed countries, the overall illiteracy rate is 49 per cent
  • Africa as a continent has a literacy rate of less than 60 per cent. Global development initiatives recognise the critical need for literacy development.

The World Education Forum (Dakar, April 2000) set a target to halve adult illiteracy by 2015. The Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations Secretariat and the IMF, OECD and the World Bank, include the achievement of universal primary education as a specific priority. The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the period 2003-2012 as the UN Literacy Decade.

The Dakar Agreement (2000)

The Dakar Agreement arose from the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000. The agreement states that all citizens should have opportunities to meet their basic learning needs, and that primary education should be free, compulsory, and of good quality. By adopting the Dakar Framework for Action, 1 100 signatories affirmed their commitment to achieving Education for All by the year 2015.

The United Nations Literacy Decade (2003 – 2012)

The goal of the United Nations Literacy Decade was to extend the use of literacy to those who do not currently have access to it (over 861 million adults and over 113 million children). The Decade was established for the following reasons:

  • One in five people over the age of 15 cannot communicate through literacy or take part in the literate environment
  • Literacy is a human right. Basic education was recognised as a human right over 50 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Literacy efforts up to now have proved inadequate at national and international levels. The Decade is an opportunity to make a sustained collective effort which will go beyond one-shot programmes or campaigns


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