January 2016: Project Literacy warns on the true economic cost of illiteracy

On the eve of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos, Project Literacy has warned that the true global economic cost of illiteracy may be far higher than previously thought.

On the eve of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos, Project Literacy has warned that the true global economic cost of illiteracy may be far higher than previously thought.


Tackling illiteracy should be made global economic priority

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New analysis suggests global economic cost of illiteracy has been hugely underestimated
Existing estimate of $1.19tn may only be “the tip of the iceberg”

 

On the eve of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting at Davos, Project Literacy has warned that the true global economic cost of illiteracy may be far higher than previously thought.

As part of a longer-term project to understand and raise awareness of the role illiteracy plays in causing and propagating the world’s biggest social problems, from poverty to radicalisation, Project Literacy – a campaign convened by learning company Pearson and backed by 40 charities and education organisations – looked at two major issues that were high on the agenda at Davos in 2015 and will be again this month: gender inequality and malnutrition.  Research has shown a clear correlation between illiteracy and these two global challenges, which respectively incur economic costs estimated at $3.5 trillion and $12 trillion.

Gender inequality
Two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. In some areas, 85% of the female population are unable to read or write. 
Each additional year of schooling a girl receives increases her earning ability by 10-20%, reduces the amount of children she will have by 10% and reduces the probability of postnatal child mortality by 10%.  
According to McKinsey, gender inequality represents a $12 trillion loss in global GDP.

Malnutrition: 
38% of African adults are illiterate, which UNESCO cites as a major barrier to improving child malnutrition and food safety. 
According to the United Nations, malnutrition costs the global economy $3.5 trillion per year.

Dan Wagner, UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “Literacy is a key component in achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals. Without literacy, each of the 17 goals will be limited by the inability of citizens to be sufficiently informed on key issues, and less empowered to take action. There is a strong argument that tackling illiteracy and low literacy, as a ‘foundational’ social problem, would pay greater economic dividends than tackling each issue separately.”


At Davos 2016, Project Literacy is showcasing the impact of illiteracy on gender inequality, malnutrition – as well as crime – via virtual reality technology. The exhibit next to the English Church of St. Luke, (Freie Evangelische Gemeinde, Scalettastrasse 1, 7270 Davos Platz) will allow people to slip into a moment in the life of an illiterate person by literally putting on the mask of a real-life case study subject and immersing themselves in one of three specially produced virtual reality segments. 
Kate James, spokesperson for Project Literacy, said:  “Just by looking at the costs incurred by gender inequality and malnutrition alone, it is clear that the true cost of illiteracy to the world is much, much higher than previously estimated. In fact, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In order to meet the UN’s new sustainable development goals, we need to work backwards; tackle illiteracy – the root cause of these issues – head on, and making it a global priority.”

The films can be watched on: http://projectliteracy.com/vr  
Project Literacy supports Goal #4 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, “to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”, by working towards a clear target: that by 2030, no child will be born at risk of poor literacy. To help raise awareness, people can sign the Project Literacy petition at projectliteracy.com/petition, created on behalf of the 757 million people around the world who cannot read or write.
Some key stats on illiteracy
Illiteracy is a truly global problem ():
No country has ever achieved continued economic growth without having first achieved an adult literacy rate above 40%. 
Illiteracy costs a developed nation 2% of its GDP each year and an emerging economy 1.2% of GDP. 
32 million adults in the United States can’t read. And one in four children grow up without learning how to read.
More than 70% of inmates in American prisons cannot read above fourth grade level (typically 9-10 years old).
1 in 5 UK children leave primary school unable to read or write.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of illiterate adults has increased by 37% since 1990.
In India, 287 million people do not have basic reading skills.
Illiterate people are more likely to commit violent crimes such as homicide, sexual assaults and robbery. 
Today 520 million women and girls are illiterate, denying them access to learn, earn, vote and thrive.


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About Project Literacy 
Project Literacy is a global campaign convened by Pearson to make significant and sustainable advances in the fight against illiteracy so that all people - regardless of geography, language, race, class, or gender – have the opportunity to fulfill their potential through the power of words. 

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