Literacy rate

Definition

Total number of literate persons in a given age group, expressed as a percentage of the total population in that age group. The adult literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 years and above, and the youth literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 to 24 years.

Calculation method

Divide the number of literates of a given age range by the corresponding age group population and multiply the result by 100. Alternatively, apply the same method using the number of illiterates to derive the illiteracy rate; or by subtracting the literacy rate from 100%.

Data required

Population and number of literates (or illiterates) by age range.

Data source

Mainly national population census; household and/or labour force surveys.

Interpretation

A high literacy rate (or low illiteracy rate) suggests the existence of an effective primary education system and/or literacy programmes that have enabled a large proportion of the population to acquire the ability of using the written word (and making simple arithmetic calculations) in daily life and to continue learning. It is common practice to present and analyse literacy rates together with the absolute number of illiterates as improvements in literacy rates may sometimes be accompanied by increases in the illiterate population due to a changing demographic structure.

Limitations

It has been observed that some countries apply definitions and criteria for literacy which are different from the international standards defined above, or equate persons with no schooling to illiterates, or change definitions between censuses. Practices for identifying literates and illiterates during actual census enumeration may also vary. In addition, errors in literacy self-declaration can affect the reliability of literacy statistics.

Purpose

To show the accumulated achievement of primary education and literacy programmes in imparting basic literacy skills to the population, thereby enabling them to apply such skills in daily life and to continue learning and communicating using the written word. Literacy represents a potential for further intellectual growth and contribution to economic-socio-cultural development of society.

Quality standards

The rate cannot exceed 100%. It is useful to align measurements of literacy with the standard international definition given above, and to administer literacy tests on a sample basis to verify and improve the quality of literacy statistics.

Types of disaggregation

By sex and by the following five-year age groups: 15-19; 20-24; 25-29; 30-34; 35-39; 40-44; 45-49; 50-54; 55-59; 60-64; 65 and above.