In a society where reading and writing skills are often taken for granted because they are considered elementary, one must realise that access to education is a privilege, not the entire world population can afford. The inability to read or write is referred to as illiteracy. According to the UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, even if about 84 percent of the adults worldwide are literate, there are still 774 million adults that are unable to read or write. The research also shows that the majority of illiterate adults live in South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Which are the causes of illiteracy?

The causes of illiteracy are numerous and mainly related to the economic and social conditions the person lives in. In fact, the first reason is the lack of access to schooling due to poverty. In many developing countries, young people cannot access education as either there are no schools where they live or their families do not have the means to pay the expensive tuition. As stated by UNICEF, in Central Africa, one-third and one-fifth of the primary-school-age and lower secondary-age children, respectively, cannot attend school. The issue is also gender-related since families that cannot afford education for all their children decide to send boys to school and leave girls at home to take care of the housework. Moreover, it is very common for poor families to send them to work from an early age. Considering their economic situation, children are seen as a source of income that is necessary for the survival of the whole family, and, therefore, their education is put on the back burner. In some communities where schooling is not given the right importance, parents find it normal that their children do not attend school because neither did they when they were younger.


Which are the consequences of illiteracy?

Illiteracy impacts the quality of life of the individual and their role in society. As they cannot read nor write, they do not acquire the adequate ability to comprehend basic information. Moreover, it affects their chances to be employed as, now more than ever before, technologies are developing faster and faster and people are required to have advanced skills. As a matter of fact, illiterate people cannot even search for job offers (neither online nor in newspapers), let alone apply for them or create their own CV. Unemployment leads to poverty and, therefore, to low-quality life, without access to basic services such as hygiene, drinking water, healthy food, and health care, just to mention a few. Illiteracy has a huge impact on people’s health. As explained in this article, women, people who live in rural areas and immigrants are more likely to experience health disparities due to their lack of health literacy. They have worse quality of care and their mortality rates are higher. Among other health conditions, these communities face a greater risk of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and HIV/AIDS.


How can we end illiteracy?

Firstly, education should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their economic conditions. Governments all around the world should invest in education to enable all young people to benefit from adequate facilities and school supplies. School attendance should become compulsory for all students to make sure everyone has the chance to acquire the skills they need to build their future, especially in terms of health, economics, and work. Tuition fees should be proportional to the families’ financial availabilities and, if necessary, students should be encouraged to continue their studies thanks to the support of scholarships. To help illiterate adults, schools could implement a plan based on evening classes, involving younger students as well in order to create an environment where the goal is to learn and share their knowledge with others.

Illiteracy has extremely negative consequences on our society, especially for those living in developing countries. Not being able to read or write means you are isolated from the rest of the world and excluded from the numerous opportunities that everyone should be able to access, regardless of their social and economic background.