Estimated 773 million Illiterate Adults Globally: Very Worrying Part of the Education Challenges

Written by Müge Çınar

The Education Monitoring Report 2022, released by UNESCO, estimates new data that shows that among adults, 83% of women and 90% of men are literate, with a 7% gender gap. As a result, a total of 771 million adults around the world lack basic literacy skills (Ahmed & Khawar, 2022).  According to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics, 2023 data shows there are nearly 773 illiterate adults (Literacy | UNESCO UIS, 2023). Current literacy data are often gathered by population censuses or household surveys in which the respondent or head of the household declares whether they can read and write a brief, simple statement about one’s everyday life in any written language.

There has been an increase in school attendance since education was adopted as a human right. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, with a world population of 2.4 billion, 48% of the population had access to school (UNESCO, 2021). When the global population hit 8 billion in 2020, school enrollment had increased to nearly 90% (Statista, 2022).

These rates indicate that primary school attendance is increasing around the world. While 773 million people are illiterate, other parts of the world the education is more digitalized and going through higher education researchers. This distinction among illiteracy and the higher level education is very upsetting. There must more support in the regions and communities who are not even basic requirements of education.

In today’s world, education is not limited to a single life period but rather a never-ending process in every age. Education is crucial to catching up with the world challenges to achieve economic prosperity, individual development, and social cohesion. Everyone must be able to access educational opportunities throughout the entirety of their lifetime.

The interconnected global challenges require everyone, regardless of age, to pursue lifelong learning. Most importantly, adult education has a great impact on the new generations and the global development that young talent could bring. To raise children with a higher awareness of world problems and greater ability to find solutions to the new world challenges, we need educated adults.

In November 2021, UNESCO’s model Futures of Education report, “Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education” was published. The right to lifelong learning was also reinforced at the “Transforming Education Summit” in September 2022, following the UN Secretary-General’s appeal for a formal acknowledgement of a universal entitlement to lifelong learning and reskilling in his report “Our Common Agenda” (UN, 2022). 

UNESCO’s recommendations and aims are explained as follows:

 “The aim of adult learning and education is to equip people with the necessary capabilities to exercise and realize their rights and take control of their destinies. It promotes personal and professional development, thereby supporting more active engagement by adults with their societies, communities, and environments. It fosters sustainable and inclusive economic growth and decent work prospects for individuals. It is, therefore, a crucial tool in alleviating poverty, improving health and well-being, and contributing to sustainable learning societies.” (UNESCO, Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, 2022).

The current situation of adult education today

Gender disparities in enrollment and attendance have declined during the last two decades. The gender gap in adult literacy is the widest in Central and Southern Asia, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (Ahmed & Khawar, 2022). According to UNESCO’s latest Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, there has also been progress, notably in the participation of women, who need adult education the most.

However, the report shows other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, such as Indigenous learners, rural populations, migrants, older citizens, people with disabilities, or prisoners, all of whom are deprived of expected literacy levels. Around 60% of countries reported no improvement in the educational involvement of people with disabilities, migrants, or convicts. Rural population involvement has decreased in 24% of the surveyed countries. In addition, the involvement of older people has fallen in 24% of the 159 nations surveyed (UNESCO, 2022).

Coping Strategies: how to Increase Adult Literacy?

UNESCO’s latest Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education provides some hints on how to increase adult literacy. There are several tools and solutions that may be realized. Firstly, spreading awareness among individuals about the most vulnerable groups who are mostly excluded from adult education is a way to mitigate the lack of adult literacy. Migrants, indigenous people, older citizens, and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable. Awareness, providing funds by NGOs and IGOs is a very powerful tool for helping vulnerable groups. In addition, making campaigns could be very beneficial.

Secondly, the solutions lie on government action in terms of monetary policy. Countries must increase their investment in adult learning and education and spend a minimum of 6% of the GDP on education. Only 22 of the 146 countries spend 4% or more of their public education budget on adult learning and education, while 28 spend less than 0.4% (UNESCO, Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education, 2022).

Thirdly, cooperation between civil society, the private sector, and government bodies in accordance with education at all levels is essential. In recent years, improvement and progress have been made in many countries thanks to partnerships between different actors to reach adults who lack learning in the last years.


Cover Photo :

Written by Müge Çınar

As a student at the University of Florence, pursuing a Master’s degree in International Relations and European Student in Italy, I am an enthusiast of human rights especially in supporting education rights that would create a better world for everyone. I apply my academic knowledge and skills to practical research work in the field of human rights.


Ahmed, A., & Khawar, U. (2022, April 28). 771m adults lacked basic literacy skills: Unesco – World – DAWN.COM. Dawn., from

Education worldwide – statistics & facts. (2022, October 11). Statista, from

Fifth Global Report on Adult Learning and Education. (2022, June 15). UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. from

Literacy | UNESCO UIS. (n.d.). UNESCO Institute for Statistics. from

Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education. (2021). UNESCO Digital Library, from

The right to lifelong learning: Why adult education matters. (2022, June 15)., 2023, from

Transforming Education Summit | United Nations. (2022). the United Nations, from

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *