Quality data ‘essential for good literacy policies’


7 July 2021

Speakers and participants at a UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) webinar about the measurement of youth and adult literacy sent a clear message: We need better data for efficient policies. Only with direct skills assessments and high-quality data will we be able to fully leverage the potential of literacy and numeracy as key drivers for economic prosperity, social inclusion, and sustainable development, they argued.

The webinar, which took place on 28 June 2021, brought together more than100 policy-makers and experts in the field of youth and adult literacy and numeracy skills development.


youth and adults lack basic literacy skills; two-thirds are women.

Only 64

out of 195 countries have implemented a direct assessment of adult skills. Most of these 64 participated in international literacy assessment surveys.


of countries with a direct measure of adult skills have a national survey in place.

The webinar showed that, globally, data availability on literacy and numeracy remains insufficient. Collective efforts have led to gradual progress with respect to increasing literacy rates. But there is still a lack of data on literacy in many countries despite the commitment of Member States to monitoring progress, as stated in Sustainable Development indicator 4.6.1. Only a small part of the world's population is currently covered by direct assessments. Speakers presented examples of strategies of France, Ireland and the Republic of Korea as a basis for discussion of how direct skills assessment can work at country level.

France – Understanding the needs of illiterate populations

In addition to international skills assessment, France conducts two national surveys; the Information and Daily Life survey (IVQ) for people 16+, and an annual measure of reading difficulties among 17–18-year-olds. Hervé Fernandez, Director of the National Agency for the Fight Against Illiteracy in France, said: The national survey allows a focus on the lower end of the skills distribution. We gained more granular data to truly understand the illiterate population in France today. It also helped us understand how available funds could be used most effectively to address their specific learning needs.”

Ireland – A 10-year government strategy

After decades of a more qualitative approach to understanding literacy, Ireland became part of the International Adult Literacy Survey in 1997 and regularly participates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) survey. This has led to decisive action at the policy level. “The international survey has produced worrying statistics on the level of skills, an unmet need in Ireland, which has ultimately led to a 10-year government strategy for adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills,” says Colleen Dube, Chief Executive Officer of the National Adult Literacy Agency in Ireland. The example of Ireland shows the importance of high-quality data for evidence-based decision-making.

Republic of Korea – Tracking literacy skills of marginalized groups

As in the case of France, the Republic of Korea conducts two dedicated national surveys alongside the country’s participation in international adult skills surveys: the Adult Literacy Competency Survey and the Literacy Education Institution Survey. These national surveys not only provide an overview of the general skills distribution in the country but also enable policy-makers to target literacy and numeracy efforts on the most marginalized.

“We have been able to track the development of literacy efforts for particular target groups, especially women, through our two national surveys. We also identified new groups in need of support, such as migrant workers or their spouses,” explained Min-Seon Park, Programme Specialist for International Affair at the National Institute for Lifelong Education in the Republic of Korea.

The way forward

To ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy, as enshrined in SDG 4.6, a national youth and adult skills strategy is required, argued Iddo Gal of the University of Haifa, Israel. Moreover, effective monitoring adapted to local context, capacity-building in the field of youth and adult literacy and numeracy, as well as a long-term strategy and funding are needed to achieve literacy and numeracy for youth and adults alike.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning stands ready to support UNESCO Member States in their efforts to design and implement national direct youth and adult skills assessment surveys. In this regard, one of the options is the UNESCO instrument, which was designed on the basis of the previous UNESCO Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP). Containing a background questionnaire and a short cognitive assessment to test basic literacy and numeracy skills of youth and adults, the new UNESCO instrument is an easy-to-administer and easily adaptable tool for national and local needs.


Further information

Webinar presentations:

Webinar recording

Speaker biographies

Webinar highlights (to follow shortly)

UIL website on youth and adult literacy

Case studies

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