Number of adult illiterates


Population aged 15 years and above who cannot both read and write with understanding a short simple statement on their every day life.

Data source

Population census, household surveys, fertility and labour force surveys.

Calculation method

Either use data on the number of adult illiterates collected during population census or survey or subtract the number of adult literates from the total population aged 15 years and above.

Data required

Population and number of illiterates aged 15 years and above by gender.


The higher the illiterate population of the country, the greater the need to expand primary education and adult literacy programmes. When disaggregated by geographical locations, it can pinpoint the areas needing most literacy efforts, and policies may be set to target such efforts at priority population groups of a particular gender and age group(s).


Some countries apply definitions and criteria of literate (illiterate) which are different from the international standards or equate persons with no schooling as illiterates. Practices for identifying literates and illiterates during actual census enumeration may also vary, as well as errors in literacy self-declaration can also affect the reliability of literacy statistics.


To identify the size and, if possible, the whereabouts and characteristics of the illiterate population aged 15 years and above who should be targeted for policies and efforts in expanding adult literacy programmes.

Quality standards

It will be useful to align all measurements of literacy with the standard international definition and to administer literacy tests on 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,...,60-64, 65 and above.