PRIORITY INVESTMENT AREA
Basic Literacy and Numeracy
The ability to read and do basic math is a powerful tool for lifting families, communities, and countries out of poverty. But education systems in many countries fail to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills to all citizens. Worldwide, more than 600 million children and adolescents fail to meet proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. Two-thirds of them live in Africa and Asia, where more than 80% of young people fall into that category.1,2 Because of these shortcomings in education, only two out of three adults in those regions are able to read.2
Some interventions in this area focus on improving enrollment and attendance in schools. Efforts that lower school fees, provide incentives to parents, address child illness, and reduce the cost or difficulty of traveling to school can have a significant impact on furthering that goal.3 Other interventions aim to improve learning outcomes by reforming pedagogical practices or by instituting governance practices such as classroom monitoring, school-based management, and performance pay.4
Building basic literacy and numeracy skills has a deep impact both on individuals and on countries. On average, individuals experience a measurable increase in annual earnings as adults for each additional year of schooling that they complete.5 At a national level, each additional year of average educational attainment correlates with a significant increase in gross domestic product per capita. Improvements in this area have a large impact on poverty alleviation as well. By one estimate, if every student in every low-income country were to attain basic reading skills, more than 170 million people would escape poverty.6
- “More Than One-Half of Children and Adolescents Are Not Learning Worldwide.” UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Fact Sheet No. 46, September 2017.
- UNESCO Institute for Statistics Database (website).
- “Roll Call: Getting Children into School.” J-PAL Policy Bulletin. Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, August 2017.
- Paul Glewwe and K. Muralidharan. “CHAPTER 10 Improving Education Outcomes in Developing Countries: Evidence, Knowledge Gaps, and Policy Implications.” Handbook of the Economics of Education, vol. 5, 2016, pp. 653-743.
- George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos. “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update.” Education Economics, vol. 12, no. 2, 2004.
- “The Investment Case for Education and Equity.” UNICEF, January 2015.