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At Least 781 Million Adults Worldwide Believed Illiterate

A global conference on literacy says generations of adults, ages 15 to 35, are being abandoned by their governments and international donors because they cannot read or write.

The Nigerian Ministry of Education and the ngo ActionAid hosted the just-ended conference in Abuja. Representatives from 24 countries from around the world attended, along with UN officials, donors and civil society.

David Archer is the International Head of Education for ActionAid. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the extent of adult illiteracy and its effects.

“There are at the moment 781 million adults who are officially illiterate in the world. That’s according to official statistics. Almost certainly the number is double that, one and a half to two billion adults, who cannot read and write adequately to function effectively in their society. So, it’s a huge problem. It’s holding back economies. It’s holding back national development in a very large number of countries. And remarkably little investment is going into this area,” he says.

Most of the investment goes into primary education for young children. Archer says, “We don’t say that’s not important. But it is also important to invest in adults because that leads to an immediate effect.”

He says that these are young adults at the height of their productivity. “These are women who are looking after young families. Educating women that age can have a dramatic impact on infant mortality, on maternal health, on the health and development of the whole family.”

He says that it would cost $50 to $100 per person per year over a two to three year period to run an effective adult literacy program. “Now this is well within the reach of most countries. It’s actually much cheaper than providing primary education,” Archer says.