The Royal Commonwealth Society is committed to improving the literacy skills of all Commonwealth residents. The global community has worked hard for many decades to improve literacy levels. It is a means to address many global challenges. These include raising attainment, reducing inequity, and improving employment prospects.

In the late 19th century, just 25% of the worldwide population attended school, which meant vast inequalities existed globally. Today, the global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is much higher at 86.3%. However, this rate varies throughout the world and between genders; the global literacy rate for males is 90% but this is much lower at 82.7% for females. Furthermore, 75% of the world’s illiterate adults live in South Asia, West Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa; this is a vast proportion. One of the lowest literacy rates in the world is found in Niger, where just over 19% of adults can read and write. South Sudan is another nation with a very low literacy rate of just 26.8%.


In developed countries, most children begin education at an early age. They learn skills such as maths, science, literacy, and languages that will help them to secure a good job in later life. Not all nations’ students have this opportunity. In developing countries, efforts to achieve universal access to education often fail. Reasons for this include population growth, poverty, social barriers, and a lack of political will. At the individual level, the cost of schooling and the difficulty of getting to school make it difficult to keep students in school. This shows the deep-rooted differences that exist between developed and developing countries.

Education is the cornerstone of national development and prosperity, and more needs to be done to improve the literacy rate in developing countries. The Royal Commonwealth Society is proud to champion literacy throughout the Commonwealth. An improved literacy rate would ensure improved prospects for all Commonwealth citizens.