Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2012
 
   
C. Education and knowledge
 
C.2. Staying in school and learning to read

Despite great progress having been made across the region in expanding access to education, many challenges remain for individuals, communities and societies to reap the many benefits of education. Large numbers of adolescents do not attend school. Even in countries where overall enrolment is high, there are significant numbers of students who leave school early. Many children of primary school age are not learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic and are entering adulthood with insufficient literacy skills. Plenty of room remains for improving the quality of learning and people’s abilities to apply knowledge.

In Asia and the Pacific, only 3 out of every 4 children who start primary school are likely to reach the last grade of primary school, indicating the potential for improving the efficiency of school systems in the region.

provide them with sufficient and high-quality support so that all can achieve the curricular objectives on time, in which case the entire cohort can progress to higher grades and complete primary school. If students do not receive high-quality instruction and do not meet the required learning targets, they are likely to repeat grade levels. Students are also likely to drop out and leave school due to poor instructional quality or for personal and family reasons. In the latter case, not all children enrolled in the first grade of primary school will reach, or survive to, the last grade. Lower survival rates indicate a lower efficiency in school systems and a waste of learning opportunities.

In 2010, as many as 76 per cent of children in Asia and the Pacific starting the first grade of primary school are expected to reach the last grade. The survival rate of 76 per cent indicates the great potential for raising the efficiency of primary school systems in the region by improving the quality of school and classroom instruction, promoting timely grade progression and eliminating school dropout. The improvement in the survival rate from the level of 74 per cent in 2000 still represents a sizeable waste of learning opportunities for many children.

Figure C.2-1
Education survival rate to the last grade of primary, Asia and the Pacific

Figure C.2-1 Education survival rate to the last grade of primary, Asia and the PacificAcross the region, the survival rate stands at 95 per cent in East and North-East Asia, and 97 per cent in North and Central Asia. However, the rate is estimated to be significantly lower, at 81 per cent, in South-East Asia and even as low as 65 per cent in South and South-West Asia, which is only slightly higher than the level in Africa (62 per cent).

In many countries in Asia and the Pacific, the survival rate to the last grade of primary school increased over the last decade, reflecting improvements in the quality of primary schooling. Such increases are particularly visible in Bhutan (82 per cent in 1999 to 91 per cent in 2010), Cambodia (55 per cent in 2000 to 61 per cent in 2010), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (55 per cent in 1999 to 68 per cent in 2010), Myanmar (55 per cent in 2000 to 75 per cent in 2009) and Viet Nam (83 per cent in 1999 to 94 per cent in 2010) (see figure C.2-1).

Despite such improvements, rates of survival to the last grade of primary school remain at 80 per cent or lower in several countries, indicating the potential for reducing waste and increasing efficiency. These countries include Pakistan (52 per cent), Cambodia (61 per cent), Bangladesh (66 per cent), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (68 per cent), Myanmar (75 per cent), and Samoa (77 per cent).

Youth literacy rates have increased rapidly in the last decade, largely due to more students enrolling and staying in school.

In many countries in the region, literacy rates among youths (individuals aged 15-24 years) were about 95 per cent or even higher at the beginning of the last decade. The ability of the vast majority of young people to read and write with comprehension a short, simple statement about their everyday lives, as well as to make simple arithmetic calculations, reflects the success of efforts of these countries to widen schooling opportunities.

At the same time, several countries with lower literacy rates also made noticeable gains over the decade. In Bangladesh, for example, the literacy rate for females aged 15-24 years increased from 60 per cent in 2001 to 80 per cent in 2011, and from 67 per cent to 77 per cent for males over the same period. Substantial progress in raising the literacy rates of both the young female population and the young male population also occurred in Nepal, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea.

Literacy rates among the adult population (individuals 15 years of age or older) stood at 63 per cent for females and 79 per cent for males in the period 1985-1994. By the period 2005-2011, the rates for adults increased to 78 per cent for females and 89 per cent for males. Such increases largely result from improvements in youth literacy rates, as well as the success of adult literacy programmes.

Progress in raising the literacy rate of the population was also visible in South and South- West Asia, the subregion with the lowest literacy rate. The adult literacy rate for women increased from 35 per cent in the period 1985-1994 to 54 per cent in the period 2005-2011, which was a substantial increase, but this figure is still low and similar to that of Africa. The rate for adult males was 75 per cent in the period 2005-2011, which had increased from 60 per cent in the period 1985-1994.

In countries and subregions with lower literacy rates, gender differences favouring males can be significant. In contrast, gender differences are much less marked when the overall literacy rates are high (see figure C.2-2). While improved access to schooling is an important factor in increasing literacy rates, schooling does not guarantee literacy in all cases. For some young people, even six years of education is insufficient to build literacy skills.1 Therefore, higher enrolment and retention rates do not on their own guarantee continuing improvements in youth literacy rates. Rather, they must be coupled with commitments to high-quality education that includes supporting all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to achieve learning outcomes.2

Large variations in adult literacy rates remain across countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Figure C.2-2
Male and female youth and adult literacy rates, Asia and the Pacific, latest year (2009-2011)

Figure C.2-2Male and female youth and adult literacy rates, Asia and the Pacific, latest year (2009-2011)In the decade from 2000 to 2011, adult literacy rates (of those countries for which data exist) increased across the globe. In the Asian and Pacific region, adult literacy in Timor-Leste has improved the most, increasing from 38 per cent in 2001 to 58 per cent in 2010. Other countries that have made significant progress in the last decade include Bangladesh and Nepal, where adult literacy rates increased by 10 and 9 percentage points, respectively. However, the rates themselves in these countries remain low, at approximately 57 per cent each. Most of the countries with the highest recorded adult literacy rates in the region are in North and Central Asia, including Armenia, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where adult literacy rates are above 99 per cent in 2011. Figure C.2-2Male and female youth and adult literacy rates, Asia and the Pacific, latest year (2009-2011)

While literacy rates have been increasing in recent years, the number of illiterate individuals has remained largely unchanged.

In the period 1995-2004, the number of illiterate individuals worldwide was 791 million, which declined to 782 million in the period 2005-2011.

As many as 501 million adults lacking basic literacy skills, or 64 per cent of the world total, resided in Asia and the Pacific in the period 2005-2011.

Women have been consistently overrepresented in the illiterate population at both the global and the regional levels. Worldwide, the number of women lacking basic literacy skills was estimated to be 499 million, or 64 per cent of the total population lacking basic literacy skills, during the period 2005-2011. As many as 326 million women in Asia and the Pacific were estimated to lack basic literacy skills, or 65 per cent of the total adult illiterate population in the region. The region accounts for 65 per cent of total illiterate women worldwide.

The large population base, combined with inadequate schooling opportunities contributed to the large number of the illiterate population being from the region. India (287 million) has the greatest number of illiterate adults of any country in the world, and four other countries in the region each have more than 10 million illiterate adults: China (52 million), Pakistan (50 million), Bangladesh (44 million) and Indonesia (13 million). Between 1 million and 8 million illiterate adults live in Cambodia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Viet Nam.

These aggregate numbers of illiterate adults in each country, however, do not reflect the distribution of illiteracy among different groups within the population. Within countries, high levels of disparity in rates of illiteracy can exist. Generally, higher rates of illiteracy are correlated with disadvantage, which is linked to characteristics including gender, poverty, ethnicity, language and disability.3 In order to significantly improve adult literacy rates in the future, it is critical that countries ensure that literacy-promotion initiatives (as well as initiatives to increase enrolment, retention and learning in schools) reach disadvantaged groups, and promote rich literate environments within households and in communities.

Box C.2-1
The stark gap in education statistics

Estimates by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggest that at least 250 million primary school age children around the world are not able to read, write or count well enough to meet minimum learning standards, even after some have spent at least four years in school.a Increasingly, the international community is focusing its attention on the need not only to continue to promote access to education but also to ensure that students are learning. Currently, however, the dearth of standardized, widespread and internationally comparable statistics to measure learning outcomes of students makes assessing the success of the initiatives to promote learning in education more difficult.

In response to this need, UNESCO, through the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), and the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution have convened the Learning Metrics Task Force, which aims to make recommendations to help countries and international organizations to measure and to improve learning outcomes for children and youth worldwide. To this end, the task force has specified three questions to be addressed:

  • What learning is important for all children and youth?
  • How should learning be measured?
  • How can the measurement of learning improve the quality of education?

In the first phase of the project, the task force proposed seven domains and corresponding subdomains of learning that are considered important for all children and youth, beginning in early childhood and extending through the transition to adulthood including work: physical well-being, social and emotional, culture and the arts, literacy and communication, learning approaches and cognition, numeracy and mathematics, and science and technology (see figure).

Global framework of learning domains

Note: This framework is intended for the purpose of the Learning Metrics Task Force to identify areas in which to measure learning outcomes. It is not intended to be used as a framework for policymaking, curriculum or instruction.
Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, Toward Universal Learning: What Every Child Should Learn (2013).

Building on the recommendations from the first phase, for the second phase, the task force addressed the second core question of how learning can and should be measured at the global and national levels, across the seven domains that were identified.

Preliminary recommendations from the second phase include: (a) a set of six areas of measurement to determine whether all children and youth have equitable learning opportunities: and (b) the establishment of a mechanism to track progress in the six areas and to support nationallevel decision-making and capacity for measuring learning.

The six areas of measurement are:

(a) Access to and completion of learning opportunities
(b) Exposure to a breadth of learning opportunities across all seven domains
(c) Early childhood experiences that result in readiness for primary school
(d) The ability to read and understand a variety of texts (at primary and lower secondary levels)
(e) The ability to use numbers and apply this knowledge to real-life situations (at primary and lower secondary levels)
(f ) An adaptable, flexible skill set to meet the demands of the twenty-first century.

In its third phase, the task force sought to link the measurement of learning to the quality of education, which is crucial for policymakers grappling with the problem of improving education quality to promote learning for all students.

____________________
a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012: Youth and Skills – Putting Education to Work (Paris, 2012).

Further reading

UNESCO Bangkok and UNICEF. Asia-Pacific End of Decade Notes on Education for All Goal 4: Youth and Adult Literacy. 2012. Available from www.uis.unesco.org/Library/Pages/ DocumentMorePage.aspx?docIdValue=685&docIdFld=ID.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Adult and youth literacy. UIS Fact Sheet, No. 20 (September 2012). Available from www.uis.unesco.org/Library/Pages/DocumentMorePage.aspx?docId Value=643&docIdFld=ID.

________. Adult and Youth Literacy, 1990-2015: Analysis of Data for 41 Selected Countries. Montreal, Canada, 2012. Available from www.uis.unesco.org/Library/Pages/DocumentMorePage.aspx? docIdValue=642&docIdFld=ID.

Technical notes

Education survival rate, last grade of primary (percentage of grade 1 students)
Percentage of a cohort of pupils (or students) who are enrolled in the first grade of primary education in a given school year and who are expected to complete primary school. Aggregate calculations: UIS.

Adult literacy rate: female, male and total; youth literacy rate: female and male (percentage)
Total number of females or males in a given age group who can both read and write with comprehension a short, simple statement about their everyday life, expressed as a percentage of the female or male population in that age group. Generally, literacy also encompasses numeracy or the ability to make simple arithmetic calculations. The adult literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 years or older, and the youth literacy rate measures literacy among persons aged 15 to 24 years. Aggregate calculations for adult literacy rates: UIS.

GPI for the adult literacy rate (female-to-male ratio)
Literate women divided by literate men (includes women and men aged 15 years or older). Aggregate calculations: UIS.

Illiterate adults: total and female (thousands)
Adult illiteracy is defined as the percentage of people aged 15 years or older who cannot both read and write with comprehension a short, simple statement about their everyday life. Aggregate calculations: UIS.

Sources
Source of staying in school and learning to read data (except youth literacy rates): UIS. Collected from survival rate school registers, school surveys or censuses, national population censuses, and household and labour force surveys. Data obtained: May and June 2013.
Source of youth literacy rates data: UIS Data Centre. Collected from national population censuses, and household and labour force surveys. Data obtained: 11 July 2013.
____________________
1 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012: Youth and Skills – Putting Education to Work (Paris, 2012), p. 96.
2 Ibid., p. 97.
3 Ibid., p. 100.
 
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