What To Know About 21st Century Literacies


World-wide, the International Literacy Day (ILD) was celebrated by UNESCO a couple of weeks ago on September 8th. This year, the focus was pointed towards ‘Literacies For The 21st Century’. We’ve talked a lot about this type of thing: 21st Century Skills, 21st Century Teachers, 21st Century Lesson Plans, and 21st Century Learning. We know that the literacies needed for our ever globalizing, technology infused world expand beyond the basic ability to read and write that the word ‘literacy’ often indicates.

But we have to start somewhere in order to build these types of literacies upon one another. If we don’t start with the basics, they cannot be built upon. The video below is based on an infographic describing adult and youth literacy rates, indicated by gender, region and country. The original infographic was created for the UNESCO Institute for Statistics by Elkano Data. It offers some really interesting data and surprising statistics about world literacy.

21st Century Literacies

  • There are an estimated 774 Million illiterate adults (over the age of 15 years).
  • 493 Million of these (or 2/3) are women.
  • There are 123 Million illiterate youth (age 15-24).
  • 76 Million of these (or 2/3) are female.
  • Even though the number of illiterate youth is in decline, the proportion of women is not.
  • Of the 76M illiterate female youth, 56M live in only 9 countries – India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of The Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Egypt, and Burkina Faso. The vast majority reside in India.
  • In South and West Asia, literacy rates have been rising for both genders since 1990.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, these rates have stagnated.
  • There are about 57 Million out of school children. 1 in 2 of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Globally, 250 Million children of primary school age lack basic reading and writing skills, whether they are in school or not.


  1. Rune Bjørnerås

    September 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Important and well-written article! You need to swap out that outdated Twitter logo as an illustration graphic for your articles at some point, though ;)

    • Jeff Dunn

      September 23, 2013 at 10:51 am

      Very true. But it’s so pretty! Kidding.