Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy
Literacy is a fundamental building block that can lead to a strong education, the ability to solve complex problems, and gaining the skills and knowledge to participate meaningfully in society. As a result, it’s also an important facilitator of economic development.
However, it’s estimated that nearly 800 million adults around the world still lack basic literacy skills—and this can create ongoing drag on the economy.
In the U.S., as one example, the people with the lowest literacy scores are 16.5x more likely to receive financial aid from the government. At the same time, they are also more likely to be in the lowest earning wage group, earning less than $300 per week.
Today’s post uses charts from Our World in Data, and it shows what literacy looks like on a global scale, and how is it shifting from generation to generation.
Global Literacy: The Big Picture
Over the past two centuries, global literacy has seen steady growth.
In the year 1800, it’s estimated that a mere 12.1% of the world was able to read and write. The most recent data shows the numbers have actually flipped—and now just 13.8% of the global population is illiterate.
It’s clear that from a high level, progress towards global literacy is being made.
But at the same time, a look at the graph shows that in more recent years, the rate of change has been slowing as we reach the “last mile” of literacy.
The Generational Perspective
Learning to read and write is easiest and most fruitful at a young age, and it’s a skill that is very unlikely to be lost later in life. For that reason, it’s worth looking at the difference between older and younger generations in terms of who is learning these skills.
For this, we zoom into the Middle East and Northern Africa region, which is where the majority of recent gains in literacy have been made:
Here, the difference in literacy between the 15-24 year age group and those over 65 years is substantial, with countries seeing large, double-digit increases in the ability to read and write:
- 🇩🇿 Algeria
The literacy rate is at 92% for the 15-24 age group, compared to 16% of the oldest generation
- 🇮🇷 Iran
99% of the 15-24 age group is literate, while 29% of the oldest generation can say the same
- 🇴🇲 Oman
98% of those aged 15-24 are literate, compared to just 23% in the 65+ age group
- 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
98% of those aged 15-24 can read and write, versus 26% of those in the oldest bracket
- 🇪🇷 Eritrea
The literacy rate is at 90% for the 15-24 age group, and 18% for those in the 65+ age group
It’s not that surprising then, that the above countries all now sit in the 75-95% percent range for overall literacy—a number that will likely improve further as education systems continue to help younger generations become literate early in life.
The Literacy Opportunity
While some countries have seen obvious generational improvements in literacy, there are places in the world where changes to educational systems have not fully yet manifested yet, or perhaps the data is not yet available for.
According to the interactive map above, here are some places on each continent where progress must still be made:
- North America
Literacy rates: 🇭🇹 Haiti (61%), 🇬🇹 Guatemala (79%), 🇳🇮 Nicaragua (82%)
- South America
Literacy rates: 🇬🇾 Guyana (88%)
Literacy rates: 🇽🇰 Kosovo (92%)
Literacy rates: 🇦🇫 Afghanistan (38%), 🇵🇰 Pakistan (56%), 🇧🇩 Bangladesh (61%), 🇾🇪 Yemen (70%)
Literacy rates: 🇳🇪 Niger (19%), 🇬🇳 Guinea (30%), 🇸🇸 South Sudan (32%), 🇲🇱 Mali (33%), 🇨🇫 Central African Republic (37%), 🇸🇴 Somalia (38%), 🇧🇯 Benin (38%)
Literacy rates: 🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea (62%)
With many NGOs and educators focused on this problem, there is hope that the “last mile” of global literacy can be solved, leading to more economic opportunity in these places—and also the world itself as a whole.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Map Explainer: Sudan
This comprehensive map explainer covers both key facts about Sudan, as well as information on the violent power struggle unfolding there
Map Explainer: Sudan
The African nation of Sudan has been in the headlines, as intense fighting has rocked the country. As this bloody power struggle plays out, the map infographic above aims to provides key information on the conflict, as well as general facts and context about the country.
To begin, what exactly is happening in Sudan?
The 2023 Conflict in Sudan: A Primer
As explosions echo throughout Khartoum—Africa’s sixth largest urban area—many around the world are left wondering how the conflict escalated to this point. Here are five things to know:
- Two generals have been sharing power since a coup in 2021. The first is General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Sudanese Army. The second is General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group. This power-sharing arrangement was meant to be temporary, with an eventual transition to a civilian-led democracy. Instead, the situation devolved into conflict.
- Fighting broke out around the country in mid-April, with Khartoum becoming a major flash point. Flames billowed over the Khartoum airport, and the city’s military headquarters was reduced to a burned-out husk.
- As violence began to grip Sudan’s largest city, there was an exodus of foreign officials and citizens. In one particularly dramatic scene at the U.S. Embassy, nearly 100 people were escorted onto an aircraft by Navy SEALs and flown to nearby Djibouti.
- There have been a number of ceasefire agreements so far, but they’ve done little to stem the intense fighting.
- The stream of refugees fleeing the violence continues to grow. There is growing concern that this conflict will cause further instability in the region, as most of Sudan’s neighbors have their own histories with recent conflict, and many areas are facing food insecurity.
Unfortunately, Sudan is no stranger to conflict, having been ruled by the military for much of its existence. As of the writing of this article, there is technically a ceasefire in place, but fighting rages on. It remains to be seen how far these warring generals are willing to push the situation to assert their power.
Fast Facts About the Country of Sudan
Beyond headlines of conflict, Sudan is not a well-known country to many in the West. In the map above, we’ve also included more general information about geography, climate, population centers, and more.
Geography and Climate
Sudan is the third largest nation in Africa (16th globally), so there is a lot of climate and geographic variance within the country’s borders.
The country is located in Northeast Africa, directly below Egypt. Roughly speaking, its climate changes along a north–south axis, moving from arid to tropical. About two-thirds of the nation is arid and semi-arid, which is typical of countries with territory that includes the Sahara Desert.
The further south one goes in Sudan, the greener the surroundings get. The map below (which also includes the relatively new country of South Sudan) shows the extreme difference in vegetation from the north to south in the region.
The Nile River is a prominent feature running across this arid region, providing two-thirds of the country’s fresh water. In the south, the Blue and White portions of the Nile enter the country from South Sudan and Ethiopia, respectively. The rivers meet midway through the country and the Nile River flows northward, eventually reaching Egypt.
This flow of water from country-to-country can sometimes be a point of contention between Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, who all rely on the river for power, fresh water, and irrigation.
Over 43 million people live in Sudan, which ranks it ninth in terms of population in Africa. Below, we can see that much of the Sudanese population is clustered in a couple of key areas, while much of the country remains sparsely populated.
Khartoum, the capital and largest city, is located in the interior of the country at the strategic point where the Blue and White Niles converge. This fast-growing city is shaped by the three sections surrounding the river junction—with Khartoum, North Khartoum, and Omdurman making up a metro area of 6.3 million people.
Sudan is divided into 18 states, five of which form the Darfur region in the west. If the name Darfur is familiar, it’s for good reason. In the 2000s, the region experienced a conflict marked by widespread violence, human rights abuses, and displacement, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. One of the generals involved in the current crisis, Hemedti, previously commanded the Janjaweed militias, which carried out some of the most egregious atrocities of the Darfur conflict.
In the northwest, Sudan borders the strategic Red Sea route. Port Sudan serves as the main entry point for imports and the primary export outlet for Sudanese commodities, including agricultural products (such as cotton, gum arabic, and sesame), minerals (such as gold), and livestock. The city has also been tapped to host a Russian naval base in the near future, though the recent power struggle in Sudan has potentially complicated negotiations.
As violence continues to rage in residential areas and people flee for safer areas, it remains to be seen how this conflict will influence population patterns within the country. How many people will be displaced? And once the smoke clears, will they return?
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