Welcome GuestLogin


Search the wiki

2.3 Literacy rate of 15-24 year-olds, women and men

Modified on 2012/03/05 16:03 by MDG Wiki Handbook Categorized as Goal 2


Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Target 2.A: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling


The literacy rate of 15–24 year-olds is defined as the proportion of the population aged 15–24 years who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement on everyday life.

Literacy, in addition to the ability to read and write with understanding a short simple statement, generally also encompass numeracy, that is, the ability to make simple arithmetic calculations.

The youth literacy rate is another term for the literacy rate of 15–24 year-olds.

Method of computation
The youth literacy rate is the number of people aged 15–24 years who are literate divided by the total population in the same age group and multiplied by 100.


Since literacy data are not always available, modelling techniques can be used to produce annual estimates based on information from national censuses and surveys.


The youth literacy rate reflects the outcomes of the primary education system over the previous 10 years or so, and is often seen as a proxy measure of social progress and economic achievement. The literacy rate for this analysis is simply the complement of the illiteracy rate. It is not a measure of the quality and adequacy of the literacy levels needed for individuals to function and participate in a society. Individual reasons for failing to achieve the literacy standard may include a low quality of schooling, difficulties in attending school or dropping out before attaining basic and sustainable education skills.

The indicator ranges from 0 (all the youth are illiterate) to 100 (all the youth are literate). Literacy rates below 100 per cent indicate the need to increase school participation and education quality.


Population and housing censuses are the primary sources of basic literacy data. These data are usually collected together with other household characteristics including the educational, demographic and socio-economic statuses of household members. These literacy data are generally based on self-declaration (i.e. one person, usually the head of the household, indicates whether each member of the household is literate or not). The literacy definition may vary from one country to another or within the same country, from one population census to another. The collection of literacy data from this primary source follows the regularity of national population censuses which, in general, is every ten years.

National sample surveys are a second source of literacy data and involve the use of a literacy variable in a household or individual sample survey. These surveys are often designed to meet immediate data needs and do not always include systematic strategies for future repeats. So even though they may provide timely data, they may not always be a consistently reliable source over time.

International sample surveys, such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), are a third source and involve the use of a literacy variable in a household or individual sample survey.

Population censuses are usually comprehensive and representative country-wide. Sample surveys may not be nationally representative. The targeted population of the survey may emphasize certain population categories more than others. For example, some surveys tend to give more emphasize to females aged 15–49.

Educational attainment should not be used as a proxy for literacy, as not all children who have received primary education acquired sustainable literacy skills.


Rural and urban differences are particularly important in the analysis of education data because of significant differences in school facilities, available resources, and demand on children’s time for work and drop-out patterns. It is also important to consider disaggregation by geographical area and social or ethnic groups. Gender differences may be more pronounced in some social and ethnic groups.

Literacy rate data should be collected to enable disaggregation by location (sub-national, urban and rural); age group (five-year age cohorts for the population aged 10 years and over (10–14, 15–19… 80–84, 85+)); and sex (total, male and female).


Literacy is measured crudely in population censuses, either through self or household report or by assuming that people with no schooling are illiterate, making international comparisons difficult. Comparability over time, even for the same survey, may also be a problem because definitions of literacy used in surveys are not standardized.

Shortcomings in the definitions of literacy, measurement problems, and infrequency of censuses and household surveys weaken this indicator’s utility for monitoring education outcomes related to the goal of achieving universal primary education.

Literacy questions should be administered as part of national censuses and household surveys, or as part of post-census sample enumeration. Ideally, literacy tests should be included as part of the questionnaires, so literacy rates are not based on self-declaration.


Higher illiteracy rates for women are the result of lower school enrolment and early drop-outs. Moreover, women generally have less access to training and literacy programmes. Female literacy rates disaggregated by geographic area and socio-economic status of the population are of interest to policy makers because marginalized women are more likely to suffer from illiteracy.


The United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics (UIS) is responsible for producing this indicator for global monitoring. The UIS collects literacy data from member states on an annual basis. These data are based on observed data reported by countries and territories as a response to a questionnaire that collects information and data on literacy. The primary respondent is the national statistical office (or equivalent agency) within each respective country and territory.

The data collected consist of the counts of the literacy for the population 10 years of age and older by region, urban/rural area, age group and sex. In order for the UIS to evaluate the quality and format of the data for inclusion in their database, it is necessary for countries to provide metadata corresponding to the data set. In addition, much of this information is made available to data users in order to facilitate their interpretation and use.

As definitions and methodologies used for data collection differ by country, comparisons are to be used with caution. In its efforts to improve the international comparability of literacy data, the UIS has developed guidelines to determine the suitability of national data for reporting at the international level. The guidelines specify that data collection tools must incorporate a “direct question” to assess literacy as part of its methodology. Data submitted to UIS must receive a satisfactory evaluation based on the responses to the questionnaire’s metadata section and be in the format required by the UIS. UIS produces estimates for countries with no recent national observed literacy data as well as projections to 2015 using the Global Age-specific Literacy Projections Model.

Population estimates from the United Nations Population Division are used to calculate the number of literates and illiterates. When these United Nations population estimates are not available, national population estimates are used.

Regional and global literacy indicators are calculated on the basis of the published data and when data are not available, imputations are made using secondary data sources. Averages, weighted by the population aged 15–24 of each country or territory within the region, are used to calculate regional figures. All countries and territories with UNPD population or national population estimates are included in the regional figures.




United Nations (2008). Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses: Revision 2. New York. Available from http://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/SeriesM/Seriesm_67rev2e.pdf.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2006). Global Age-specific Literacy Projections Model (GALP): Rationale, Methodology and Software. Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/TEMPLATE/pdf/Literacy/GALP.pdf.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2008). Guidelines and Methodology for the Collection, Processing and Dissemination of International Literacy Data. Version 3. Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/template/pdf/Literacy/Lit%20Methodology.pdf.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2009). Education Indicators Technical Guidelines. Montreal. Available from http://www.uis.unesco.org/ev.php?ID=5202_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2009). Education for All: Global Monitoring Report 2009. Paris. Available from http://www.unesco.org/en/efareport.

ScrewTurn Wiki version Some of the icons created by FamFamFam.