US $17 billion additional funding is required to achieve universal literacy in the 29 countries of the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy


8 September 2021

        Literacy investment essential for COVID-19 recovery

773 million youth and adults worldwide do not have basic literacy skills, two-thirds of them are women. They are deprived of access to decent jobs, further learning, relevant information for their everyday life, and full participation in their communities.

On International Literacy Day 2021, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning calls on the international community to increase funding and political will in order to ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

A UNESCO cost analysis, taking into account the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on national households, shows that if members of the Global Alliance for Literacy (GAL),(1) home to 75 per cent of the illiterates worldwide, are to achieve near universal functional literacy by 2030 the international community will urgently need to close a funding gap of US $17 billion.(2)

David Atchoarena

David Atchoarena © UNESCO
David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), says: “The COVID-19 pandemic clearly showed that literacy saves lives! Only if people can read and write will they be able to access lifesaving information and be empowered to act responsibly during emergencies such as the one the pandemic has brought about.”

But even if 4 to 6 per cent of national GDP(3) is allocated to education and 3 per cent of the education budget is invested in literacy, as the SDG 4 Framework for Action recommends, the countries of the Global Alliance for Literacy will only achieve near universal literacy by 2030 with the support of the international community.

“This analysis shows how far we still have to go in meeting this target, in line with commitments made by world leaders as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. I call on donors worldwide to contribute to closing the current funding gap of US $17 billion”, concludes Mr Atchoarena.

Funding gap largest in 20 countries belonging to the Global Alliance for Literacy

The study shows that the funding gap is largest in the 20 GAL countries that are not part of the E9, at an estimated US $12 billion. Most of these countries, including, for example, Burkina Faso, Haiti and South Sudan, require significant external funding support since they will not be able to cover the costs from national budgets.

H.E. Kouaro Yves Chabi

H.E. Kouaro Yves Chabi
© Présidence Bénin
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put domestic budgets of the Global Alliance for Literacy countries under tremendous pressure. But investment in literacy is essential if we are to recover well from this global pandemic. We need to ensure that literacy is a core component of educational recovery plans and that adequate budgets are allocated. However, without the support of the international community, we will not be able to achieve the goal of universal literacy by 2030, as pledged by the international community,” says H.E. Kouaro Yves Chabi, Benin's Minister of Secondary, Technical and Vocational Education and Co-chair of the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy.



Further data and stronger coordination needed

The paper underlines that while basic data on literacy rates exist there is a compelling need for further data collection and research in GAL countries to enable well-informed decision-making with regard to the provision and expansion of quality literacy programmes. 

In addition to increased funding from both national governments and international partners, there is a need to enhance the coordination, planning, management and monitoring capacities of relevant ministries, departments and providers. Moreover, the literacy challenge requires a stronger partnership among different stakeholders at local, national and global levels.

The first version of the cost analysis paper was published in 2019 by UIL, the UNESCO Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in collaboration with the Global Education Monitoring Report team. This revised version is published by UIL and the UNESCO Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems.

Technical notes

  1. Members of the Global Alliance for Literacy are Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan as well as the E-9 countries Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The E9 countries are those with the highest number of youth and adults with no and low basic literacy, while 14 out of the 20 remaining GAL countries had adult literacy rates below 50% in 2017.
  2. The calculated costs above comprise the annual salary for instructors and are based on the estimation of 500 contact hours per learner, as estimated by the 2019 expert panel of the study.
  3. In the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of  Sustainable Development Goal 4 it is recommended that countries allocate at least 4% to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP) to education; and/or allocate at least 15% to 20% of  public expenditure to education.

Download: Counting the cost. Achieving literacy in countries of the Global Alliance for Literacy.

Background on the Global Alliance for Literacy

The Global Alliance for Literacy within the Framework of Lifelong Learning (GAL) was initiated in 2016 as an alliance of the countries with an adult literacy rate below 50% and the nine countries with the largest populations worldwide which are home to 67 per cent of the global population of youth and adults who lack basic literacy and numeracy. Today, GAL is made up of 29 countries strongly committed to improving youth and adult literacy.

GAL engages a multiplicity of stakeholders to advocate for the importance of youth and adult literacy and to catalyse in an effective and coordinated manner efforts to improve literacy rates in the countries that need it the most. The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning functions as the GAL secretariat.

        Literacy investment essential for COVID-19 recovery

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