The most challenging part about writing on this topic is that very few countries carry out literacy assessments, therefor estimates of literacy levels still draw largely on censuses.
According to the 2017/8 Global education monitoring report by UNESCO, between 2000 and 2016, the adult literacy rate increased from 81.5% to 86% worldwide, although it remains at 65% in sub-Saharan Africa and 61% in low income countries. It also adds that the number of adults with no literacy skills has fallen by just 4% to 750 million.
What’s more interesting about low levels in literacy and numeracy is the fact that they also affect high income countries. This is according to the report:
The estimated 14% global adult illiteracy rate contrasts with the estimated 19% of adults who, on average, did not meet literacy proficiency level 2 in the mostly high income countries participating in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) survey, ranging from 5% in Japan to 53% in Chile. A larger proportion of adults lacked basic numeracy skills, PIAAC results showed. In the United States, 29% of adults did not reach numeracy proficiency level 2, compared to 17% who did not reach literacy proficiency level 2. There is some evidence that literacy and numeracy levels are, in fact, declining.
In South Africa, an apartheid-era languages law led to black South Africans in Natal province receiving two more years of education in their local language than their peers in Transvaal, Cape and Free State provinces, resulting in a Natal literacy rate 3.5% higher than that in the other provinces, despite the fact that the policy was intended to exclude and discriminate (Eriksson, 2014).
Wide literacy gaps between girls and boys narrow or disappear in young adulthood. At age 15, girls in OECD countries outperformed boys in reading. By age 27, the gender gap has almost completely closed, with gains concentrated among low-performing males. (Borgonovi et al. 2017)
In this age of time, the fourth industrial revolution, reading and counting are the two most basic and important skills anyone should acquire. The workforce has drastically shifted from what we knew to a much broader environment where new job titles are created each and every day.
It has never been more important for children to learn counting and reading at a tender age.