The literacy rate is a measure of people’s ability to sufficiently read and write within a population. According to the UNESCO Institute for statistics, the global literacy rate among youth (15-24 years of age) was 91% while that of adults (aged 15 years and older) was 86%. In the Asian region, significant progress was noticed in adult literacy rates in the period between 1990 and 2016. Adult literacy rates in South Asia rose from 46% in 1990 to 72% in 2016. In the same period, adult literacy in West Asia rose from 64% to 81% while in East and South-East Asia, the rate rose from 82% to 96%. The youth literacy rate in the region also rose dramatically from 59% to 89% in South Asia. In West Asia, the youth literacy rate rose from 80% to 90% while in East and South-East Asia, the rate rose from above 80% to nearly 100%. Gender disparities remain particularly in South and West Asia, but rising female literacy rates have significantly narrowed the gender gap in the past 26 years. Currently, the countries with the highest literacy rates in Asia include Azerbaijan, Singapore, Macao, Indonesia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.
10 Most Literate South Asian Nations
Azerbaijan has some of the highest literacy rates in Asia. The country’s youth literacy rate is 99.94% and is ranked as the highest in Asia. The overall adult literacy rate is 99.79%. The literacy rate among males and females varies marginally with an adult male literacy rate of 99.86% compared to an adult female literacy rate of 99.72%. Among the youth aged between 15 years and 24 years, the literacy rate in males is 99.96%, while that of females is 99.92%. The country also invests considerably in education with expenditure on education, taking up 8.2% of the nation’s budget in 2016, which represented an investment of 2.9% of the GPD. The percentage allocated to education from the national budget has, however, been gradually declining from a historic high of 41.4% in 1995.
In 2016, Singapore had a youth literacy rate of 99.93%, the second-highest youth literacy rate in Asia. The adult literacy is also considerably high at 97.05%. The gap in literacy rates among males and females is also considerably low, with males having an adult literacy rate of 98.45% while females have an adult literacy rate of 95.45%. Among the youth (15 to 24 years of age), the literacy rate in males is 99.91% compared to 99.94% in females. The higher adult literacy rate in females aged 15 to 24 years indicates that there are continued efforts to eliminate gender gaps in the education sector. The country’s investment in education is quite high, with expenditure on education taking up between 17.71% and 19.96% of the budget from the year 2000 to 2013.
The adult literacy rate in Macau in 2016 was 96.5% representing a significant increase from 90.4% recorded in 1981. The increase was achieved through an annual literacy growth rate of about 1.66%. The youth literacy rate (15 to 24 years of age) in 2016 was 99.8%, making it the third-highest in Asia.
In 2016, Indonesia had a youth literacy rate of 99.67% placing it in the fourth position in youth literacy in Asia. The overall adult literacy rate in the same year was 95.38%. The difference in adult literacy among males and females was 97.17% and 93.59%, respectively, representing a significant difference. The difference in literacy rates among the youth (15 to 24 years) is less apparent, with males having a literacy rate of 99.68% compared to 99.65% in females. The government’s investment in education has risen considerably over the years. In 1994, the expenditure on education was about 5.86% of the national budget. The expenditure has since risen to 20.5% recorded in 2015.
In 2016, Turkey had the 5th highest youth literacy rate at 99.62%. In the same year, the country had an adult literacy rate of 96.17%. The difference in adult literacy rates among males and females was significant, with males having a literacy rate of 98.78% compared to 93.56% in females. The gender gap in youth literacy rates (15 to 24 years of age) is marginal, with males having a literacy rate of 99.86% compared to 99.37% in women. It is, however, important to note the country has achieved significant progress over the years in minimizing the gender gap. In 1975, the adult literacy rate in females was 45.1% compared to 77.5% in males. The nation’s investment in education is also quite high (12.84% of the national budget in 2015).
According to UNESCO, Sri Lanka had an adult literacy rate of 91.9%. The country is ranked 6th in the youth literacy rate, which stands at 98.86%. The male literacy rate is 92.98% compared to 90.97% in females. Among the youth, the literacy rate in females is higher than in males with a female literacy rate of 99.15% compared to 98.55% in males. In 2017, the government invested 14.5% of its budget in education.
The adult literacy rate in Malaysia was 93.7% in 2016, while that of the youth (15-24 years of age) was 98.4% in the same year. The male literacy rate in adults was 95.43% compared to 90.75% in females representing a significant gender gap. The female literacy rate among the youth is, however, marginally higher in females (98.46%) compared to males (98.38%).
In 2018, Bahrain’s adult literacy rate was 97.5% representing a significant rise from 69.8% recorded in 1981. The youth literacy rate was 94.14% in 2016.
The adult literacy rate in Bangladesh in 2017 was 72.89%. The male literacy rate was 75.7% compared to 70.09% in females representing a significant gender gap. The overall literacy rate among the youth (15 to 24 years of age) was 92.95%. The literacy rate in females between 15 and 24 years was 94.38% compared to 91.54% in males. In 2016, Bangladesh spent 11.42% of its budget on education.
In 2016, Burma had an adult literacy rate of 75.55%. The youth literacy rate in the same year was estimated at 84.75%. The male literacy rate was 80.01% compared to 71.855% in females representing a significant gap between the sexes.
Literacy Trends In Asia
Despite considerable progress in improving literacy rates, the region is still home to over 68% of illiterate adults in the world. The South Asia region alone is home to 49% of the global illiterate population. The East and South-East Asia region and West Asia region hold 10% and 9% respectively of the world’s illiterate population. A majority of countries on the continent also missed the 'education for all' goals of slashing adult illiteracy rates by half in the period between the years 2000 and 2015. Experts believe that building on the momentum of rising literacy rates is vital in eradicating illiteracy on the continent.
10 Most Literate Asian Countries
|Rank||Country||Youth literacy as a percentage of population, 2016|
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