What many overlook as a basic ability — as common and easy as switching on a light — is to other people around the world a privilege that isn't easily afforded. Literacy, the ability to read and write, is not a universal faculty as many would believe. In fact, illiteracy is just one of many considerable factors that exacerbate inequality and make the advancement of those in underdeveloped societies more difficult.
If we consider how much we rely on these basic but vital tools of communication, which most of us have perfected early in our youth, it’s difficult to comprehend that 22 percent of all adults on earth are illiterate. UNESCO estimates that 30 to 50 million people are added to the growing list of illiterate individuals annually. The underlying reason for these numbers is lack of opportunity. The long-standing notion that illiteracy is due to the individual’s limited intellectual capacity is false; what’s true is that people are illiterate not as a choice or due to ignorance, but as a consequence of being born into a cycle of poverty that restricts accessibility to education. And poverty is not a choice.
The CIA World Factbook reports that there are 775 million people globally who cannot read and write, with 122 million of these individuals being children. Women make up two-thirds of this demographic and the lowest illiteracy rates are found in South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 98 percent of all illiterate individuals live in developing countries where children are often forced to quit school due to its unaffordable cost or in order to join the labor force as a means of survival. It’s clear that large-scale poverty correlates to a lower literacy rate in a country. To further shed some light on this prominent issue, the following list ranks the countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world based on world comparison statistics collected by the CIA World Factbook.
10 Benin: 42.4 percent literacy rate
9 Guinea: 41 percent literacy rate
8 Ethiopia: 39 percent literacy rate
7 Somalia: 37.8 percent literacy rate
6 Chad: 34.5 percent literacy rate
5 Mali: 33.4 percent literacy rate
4 Niger: 28. 7 percent literacy rate
3 Afghanistan: 28.1 percent literacy rate
2 South Sudan: 27 percent literacy rate
1 Burkina Faso: 21.8 percent literacy rate
Located in West Africa, Burkina Faso is a former French colony where the primary language is French, though many citizens cannot read nor write the language since a high percentage of the population doesn’t attend school. As a country with historically poor social welfare, only about one-third of children attend primary school. Due to the generally inaccessible locations of the schools, children in rural villages must walk for several miles to reach the nearest school. UNICEF reports that only 65 percent of boys and 54 percent of girls attend school. The dropout rate is increasingly high and it seems clear that a country with so inefficient an education system produces the lowest level of literacy rates in the world. Burkina Faso relies heavily on an internalized economy and so it’s typically a more viable option for most children to abandon education and work instead.
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