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Literacy rates among youth (aged 15 to 24) and adults are the test of an educational system, and the overall trend is positive, thanks to the expansion of educational opportunities. Globally, the youth literacy rate increased from 83 per cent to 91 per cent over two decades, while the number of illiterate youth declined from 170 million to 115 million. Regional and gender disparities persist, however. Literacy is lowest in least developed countries and higher among males than females. In the most recent years for which data are available, young women accounted for 59 per cent of the total illiterate youth population.
About 60 per cent of the countries and areas for which data are available have eradicated or nearly eradicated illiteracy among youth. In several countries in West and Central Africa, however, youth literacy rates remain less than 50 per cent. These are countries that have struggled to increase school enrolment at both primary and secondary levels. However, even when universal primary education is within reach, some countries, such as Malawi and Zambia, show low youth literacy rates. This suggests that enrolment as well as retention in school is important, as is the quality of education.
UNESCO Institute for Statistics global databases, 2018