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
Across 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
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
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
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
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
Male 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.
While literacy rates have been increasing
in recent years, the number of illiterate
individuals has remained largely
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
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
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
What learning is important for all children and
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
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
The six areas of measurement are:
Access to and completion of learning opportunities
Exposure to a breadth of learning opportunities
across all seven domains
Early childhood experiences that result in readiness
for primary school
The ability to read and understand a variety of
texts (at primary and lower secondary levels)
The ability to use numbers and apply this
knowledge to real-life situations (at primary and
lower secondary levels)
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.
aUnited Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012: Youth and Skills – Putting
Education to Work (Paris, 2012).
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
Adult literacy rate: female, male and total;
youth literacy rate: female and male
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
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.
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.