US $17 billion needed to achieve universal literacy in the 29 countries of the UNESCO Global Alliance for Literacy – UNESCO

According to UNESCO, 773 million youth and adults worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and 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.

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 in largest in 20 countries belonging to 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.

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.

 “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.

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