Skip to main content
Available in EnglishEspañolPortuguês

Illiteracy Affects Almost 38 Million People in Latin America and the Caribbean

2 December 2013|News

The plans and programmes implemented to turn the situation around in 23 countries are analysed in a new ECLAC report.


Persona escribiendo en un cuaderno
Foto: Colectivo fenix/Flickr

On average, 9% of those aged 15 and over are completely illiterate in Latin American and Caribbean countries (about 38 million people), according to estimates based on official data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics, says a study prepared by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), which examines the main relevant strategies currently developed in the region.

If we consider functional illiteracy (which means the lack of skills and abilities that people need to function in various life situations), the figure is significantly higher - according to the document Literacy of young people and adults in Latin America and the Caribbean: analysis of the main programmes (in Spanish).

Despite this, according to the authors of the report prepared as part of cooperation between ECLAC and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), national resources for literacy programmes are usually unstable and subject to fluctuations, as they are extremely sensitive to economic and political changes.

The study states that, despite major progress in educational coverage and literacy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent decades, illiteracy among the adult population (and particularly what is known as functional illiteracy) remains an ongoing problem that is a reflection of inequality in the region.

The report describes plans implemented by Argentina, Bolivia , Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, , Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. Among the programmes being carried out by several countries,  the Cuban ones "Yes I can" and "Yes I can continue" are highlighted.

Some strategies focus on reading and writing and basic maths, whereas others tackle more complex skills such as work or vocational training. There are also programmes focused on children's literacy, while others concentrate on young people and adults outside the formal education system.

One of the study's main conclusions is that literacy policies and practices must be linked to the creation of more democratic societies in which access to written culture is fundamental.

The document also underlines the importance of expanding learning methods to include information and communications technologies, while also supporting the training of adult-education instructors, teachers and facilitators.

The key to literacy is to generate literate environments in which all members of the community feel the need and desire to learn and to continue developing their skills. According to the study, the persistent nature of the region's illiteracy problem remains an ongoing challenge for decision-makers involved in national and regional policies.