A Landscape Analysis of the Global Literacy Sector


The international community has made great strides in promoting global literacy in the last 15 years, but there is still significant progress to be made. The Education for All Global Monitoring Report estimates that there are currently about 781 million illiterate adults—considering possible measurement errors this number could well be upwards of 1 billion (UNESCO 2015). In short, the Education for All Goal to reduce adult illiteracy (especially among women) by 50% between 2000 and 2015 was not met: while adult illiteracy has fallen by 23% in this timeframe, this is far shy of the 50% goal (UNESCO 2015).

Project Literacy is a new coalition of global and local organizations dedicated to tackling the literacy gap by advancing best practice, innovating for new solutions, and energizing debate about literacy.

As the coalition seeks to lay the groundwork for Project Literacy, understanding the current landscape of the global literacy sector is critical to maximizing the likelihood of success. Pearson commissioned this landscape as initial effort of Project Literacy to understand and contribute to the global literacy sector.

It is with this goal in mind that Results for Development (R4D) undertook a landscape analysis of the global literacy sector. The report is organized into four sections:

  1. Background: Highlights key statistics related to global literacy.
  2. Key stakeholders and initiatives in the literacy field: Provides an overview of stakeholders and initiatives focused on literacy at the global, regional, and national levels (for Pearson’s priority countries); identifies common themes among these initiatives and analyzes current patterns of engagement to identify gaps where more attention could be given.
  3. Key issues and best practices in the literacy field: Provides a high-level overview of key issues and best practices in the literacy field and highlights those where the evidence base is particularly strong.
  4. Recommendations for the global literacy sector: Synthesizes and analyzes the information obtained through the landscape to draw out recommendations for how to best support the global literacy sector moving forward.


A few key findings from the report are listed below:

  • Donor interest in funding literacy internationally is more heavily skewed towards the early grades than towards adolescent or adult literacy. Not only is global programming for adult literacy limited, funding to conduct advocacy for adult literacy globally is even more limited.
  • Donors are heavily prioritizing technology in the current literacy landscape. However, several interviewed stakeholders noted that while education technology is attracting considerable interest and funding, there is still a significant lack of evidence on what types of technology interventions actually work to improve literacy.
  • A handful of organizations are leading the way on parental and community engagement in children’s literacy, but this is an area where more could be done, particularly given the growing evidence base supporting this approach.
  • Since the termination of previous global campaigns for literacy such as the Global Campaign for Education’s Literacy for All Campaign and the United Nations Literacy Decade’s Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE), there are no large-scale global advocacy campaigns on literacy that have taken their place.
  • There are no corporate-driven campaigns or initiatives for literacy at the global level. All literacy initiatives at the global level were driven by the non-profit sectors (NGOs or bilateral and multilateral agencies).


Out of these findings, a few recommendations emerged. They are intended for the global literacy community broadly, but are particularly relevant to funders and other stakeholders committed to supporting literacy. Specifically:

  • Provide increased support for identified gaps in the literacy sector, in particular for adult literacy
  • If a new global literacy campaign is launched, it should be inclusive and have a clear and targeted focus.
  • Avoid duplication of effort, build on existing initiatives, and enhance information-sharing
  • Enhance collaboration between “non-traditional” literacy stakeholders and “traditional” development and global literacy stakeholders
  • Continue to invest in robust monitoring, evaluation, and learning

To learn more, download the full analysis at the link above.

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