3 in 10 young people in conflict or disaster-stricken countries are illiterate - UNICEF

Ahead of GPE financing conference in Dakar, United Nations children’s agency says it will need around $1 billion for education programmes this year

31 January 2018
On 3 March 2016 in South Sudan, Chubat (right), 12, sits with her friend in the burned ruins of her school in Malakal Protection of Civilian site.

NEW YORK, 31 January 2018 – Nearly 3 in 10 young people aged between 15 and 24 years old – 59 million – living in countries affected by conflict or disaster are illiterate, triple the global rate, UNICEF said today.

Niger, Chad, South Sudan and Central African Republic – all countries with a long history of instability and high levels of poverty – are home to the highest illiteracy rates among young people with 76 per cent, 69 per cent, 68 per cent and 64 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds, respectively, unable to read or write.

“These numbers are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children’s education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore. “An uneducated child who grows into an illiterate youth in a country ripped apart by conflict or destroyed by disasters may not have much of a chance.”

This new analysis – calculated using UNESCO’s literacy rates in 27 emergency countries featured in UNICEF’s 2018 Humanitarian Action for Children appeal – is released ahead of this week’s Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Conference in Dakar, Senegal.

The analysis also notes that girls and young women are at the biggest disadvantage when it comes to reading and writing, with 33 per cent of them in emergency countries failing to learn even the basics, compared to 24 per cent of boys.

Yet, despite its role in leveling the playing field for the most vulnerable children and young people, education remains severely underfunded. Currently, only 3.6 per cent of humanitarian funding goes toward providing education for children living in emergencies, making it one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals.

Overall, UNICEF estimates that it will spend approximately $1 billion a year on education programmes over the next four years. Just yesterday, UNICEF launched a humanitarian appeal for $900 million for education in countries affected by conflicts and natural disasters.

UNICEF works in countries around the world to get children into school and learning including by providing accelerated education and non-formal learning opportunities, training teachers, rehabilitating schools and distributing school furniture and supplies.

In West and Central Africa, home to emergency countries with the highest rates of illiteracy among youth at 39 per cent and where the third replenishment conference will be hosted, UNICEF works with a range of partners to help children learn despite conflict and insecurity. A partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, for example, is helping expand an innovative radio education programme that provides an alternative learning platform for children and youth affected by crises. More than 144 episodes on literacy and numeracy are broadcast across radio in French, Fulfulde, Hausa and Kanouri. The programme will soon be rolled out in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau.

UNICEF urges governments and other partners to take action to tackle the education crisis affecting children and young people in emergencies including by:

- Providing young children with access to quality early education programmes to support their development and set them up to continue learning throughout their childhood;
- Offering illiterate young people the opportunity to learn to read and write and further their education through specially designed alternative and accelerated education programmes;
- Increasing investment in education, particularly for the most disadvantaged children and youth.

“Education can make or break a child’s future,” Ms. Fore said. “For all children to fully reap the benefits of learning, it is key that they get the best quality education possible, as early as possible.” 


Notes to editors

Multimedia content can be downloaded here.

UNICEF used UIS 2018 data to calculate illiteracy rates among young people aged between 15 and 24 years old in 27 of countries with available data out of 32 emergency countries where UNICEF has an individual humanitarian appeal.

GPE’s third replenishment for 2018-2020 aims to raise significant commitments to education from partner countries, and current and new donors in order to ensure that all children and youth are in school and learning. The replenishment will focus on education for children in emergencies, inclusive education and early learning. For more information, visit here.

Media contacts

Georgina Thompson
Tel: +1 917 238 1559
Anne Isabelle Leclercq Balde
UNICEF West & Central Africa
Tel: + 221 77 740 69 14


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