World Facts

25 Most Illiterate Countries

From South Sudan to Nepal, several countries across multiple continents suffer from low literacy rates.

Though literacy on a national or global scale has not always been historically significant, today we recognize literacy as a basic human right and organizations all over the world are pushing towards increasing the literacy rate of all countries worldwide. Being able to read and write not only empowers a person but also opens a whole new world of opportunities that is required in order to abolish poverty, and eliminate hunger, and see any progress in the human species overall.

The Geography of Illiteracy

According to an infograph released by the Unesco Institute for Statistics in 2013, 52% of the 774 million illiterate people who are 15 years and older are based in West and South Asia. As of 2015, these regions have 70.2% literacy rates, while sub-Saharan Africa has 64%. South Sudan ranks lowest of them all, with a literacy rate of just 27%, followed by Afghanistan at 28.1%, Burkina Faso at 28.7%, Niger at 28.7%, Mali at 33.4%, Chad at 35.4%, Somalia at 37.8%, Ethiopia at 39%, Guinea at 41% and Benin at 42.4%. Further analysis of Unesco’s statistics details that of the 774 million illiterate adults recorded in 2013, two thirds of these, or about 493 million, are women who are unable or have difficulties reading text messages, filling out forms and reading their doctor’s prescription. Furthermore, there are 123 million people between 15 and 24 years of age who cannot read or write. Of these illiterate youth, 76 million are women and 54 million of them are based in only nine countries: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt and Burkina Faso.

Poverty Remains the Primary Cause

Many of the countries who have been reported as having very low literacy rates are also among the poorest in the world. A huge majority of the people living in these countries are barely able to eat three square meals per day let alone worry about going to school or learning how to read and write. On the other hand, the alarmingly high illiteracy rate among women from India, Pakistan and Nigeria is attributed to the social inequality that they are experiencing. Women generally receive less education in these countries with their roles still majorly relegated to secondary importance. Recent developments however are changing this norm as families are beginning to accept that education is vital for the future wellbeing of not only their economic lives but also their freedom. It is imperative now more than ever for everyone to recognize that education is a basic human right and must be given freely to all including women and children. No amount of progress will equal to the freedom of being able to empower oneself and be given equal opportunities that people from other more advanced countries are enjoying.

Countries With The Lowest Literacy Rates In The World

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RankCountryLiteracy Rate (%)
1South Sudan27.0 %
2Afghanistan28.1 %
3Burkina Faso28.7 %
4Niger28.7 %
5Mali33.4 %
6Chad35.4 %
7Somalia37.8 %
8Ethiopia39.0 %
9Guinea41.0 %
10Benin42.4 %
11Sierra Leone43.3 %
12Haiti48.7 %
13Senegal49.7 %
14Gambia, The51.1 %
15Bhutan52.8 %
16Pakistan54.9 %
17Guinea-Bissau55.3 %
18Mozambique56.1 %
19Central African Republic56.6 %
20Cote d'Ivoire56.9 %
21Nepal57.4 %
22Bangladesh57.7 %
23Timor-Leste58.3 %
24Mauritania58.6 %
25Togo60.4 %

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