One in Six Adults Don't Have Basic Literacy Skills

Today is International Literacy Day, an occasion meant to raise awareness about the important role of literacy in the lives of individuals and communities. First observed in 1966, the UNESCO initiative is also intended to bring attention to outstanding global literacy needs. Learn about five organizations working to improve literacy around the world.

By Douglas Fehlen

According to UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), 793 million adults - or roughly 1 in 6 - do not have basic literacy skills. Additionally, the International Reading Association reports that between 94 and 115 million children don't have access to education.

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Literacy rates are lowest in South and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but the problem is one that affects virtually every region of the world. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations devoted to providing all with the gift of literacy. Following are five of the best groups operating at an international level.


The organization that established International Literacy Day plays an important role in contemporary efforts to teach illiterate people around the world. Comprised of some 3,700 clubs, centers and associations, UNESCO oversees large international literacy campaigns while coordinating efforts on the ground. Initiatives are guided on the belief that, 'Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.'

International Reading Association

This organization is a significant supporter of International Literacy Day, marking the observance through readings and other events. Professionals on local councils in 60 countries work together to set up and enhance the quality of literacy outreach services. A focus on professional development is geared toward improving reading instruction and helping students incorporate literacy skills into their lives.

Room to Read

Former tech executive John Wood founded Room to Read after a visit to Nepal, during which he realized that many schools there were in need of resources. His organization works with rural villages to build schools, stock libraries and publish books in local languages. Because women make up about two-thirds of illiterate adults, Room to Read also features specific education programs for girls. The organization supports learning communities in nine countries.

Rotary International

Rotary International is a service organization made up of some 33,000 local clubs in more than 200 countries and geographic areas. While literacy is not the sole focus of this org, the learning initiative is an important cause for the group. The organization designates March as Rotary Literacy Month and plans a variety of worldwide service activities for International Literacy Day and throughout the year.


This international organization supports literacy education for adults and their families in 65 nations throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the U.S. The organization features programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including opportunities that focus on literacy that relates to health and workforce readiness.

Don't miss The Education Insider's interview with members of the Carleton Caldecott Club, a college-led organization that promotes child literacy.

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