The ability to read and write at a basic level could be considered as a fundamental human right, simply because it’s so important. With technology becoming increasingly more important and affordable around the world, literacy today is now more important than ever to be able to keep up with the rest of society.

Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, still has the highest amount of people unable to read and write. Lack of education is the root of many problems in developing countries and become even bigger problems when you can’t keep up with the rest of the world.

Literacy facts and figures

In 2012, UNESCO reported that global literacy was about 84.3% for adults and 89.4% for youth. While those sound like great numbers, remember, we’re talking about the global average. In Sub-Saharan Africa, literacy in many countries is still below 60%. That means a little less than half of the population knows how to read and write.

But again, these are just the averages, so fortunately, some developing countries are doing really great with more than 95% of the population being literate. Unfortunately, it also means that some countries are doing terrible, like only 15% in Niger.

And then there’s also the difference between men and women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 68% of men know how to read and write, versus 51%.

Why it’s so important to tackle illiteracy in Africa

Development starts with education and education starts with knowing how to read and write. Just think about it, almost everything we do and everything we use is based on our ability to read. By having a smartphone, we have all the information we need at the tip of our fingers. With the internet, all our collective knowledge is connected and instantly accessible. The only prerequisite: you need to know how to read.

But besides the obvious, literacy has far more benefits than we realize. Educated mothers tend to have less children than uneducated mothers. And they also tend to take better care of their children, because they are more knowledgeable when it comes to hygiene for example. There is a direct link between knowing how to read and write and child mortality. When literacy is up, child mortality is down.

And that’s not all. Literate mothers are far more likely to send their kids to school, because they know just how important it is for their future. And when those children get a little further in their education (like going to highschool), they will push their kids to get even further and so on. And that way, each generation will be educated a little more than the previous, improving their opportunities, increasing their chances and health.