393 Million Children Unable to Read: the World's Shocking Lost Potential

A new analysis tool illustrates the scale of the global learning crisis

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (April 26, 2021)—More than 393 million children have failed to gain the basic literacy skills at age 10 since world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, according to a new analysis tool launched today.

The Lost Potential Tracker—created by the ONE Campaign, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and Save the Children—is an interactive tool designed to measure the scale of the global learning crisis.

For the first time ever, education experts and the public can track, in real time, the increasing number of children who are unable to read and understand a simple sentence by age 10. The Lost Potential Tracker also makes accessible the stories of children affected by the global learning crisis, and allows users to step into the shoes of a policymaker and experience first-hand how effective financing can help turn the tide for children.

Based on calculations from official World Bank and UNESCO ‘learning poverty’ figures, and UN population data of all 10-year-olds, the Tracker sets out the number of children losing their future potential every year, month, week, day, hour and second. Findings from the Tracker show that nearly 6 million children turn 10 each month without acquiring the basic literacy skills for their age. That is equivalent to the population of Johannesburg.

Without a commitment to effectively fund education for all, the organizations behind the Lost Potential Tracker warn that the world will not only fail to deliver on its education promises by 2030, but will also risk losing out on the next generation of doctors, teachers and leaders.

Tom Hart, Acting CEO of the ONE Campaign, said: “These figures reveal the shocking failure of world leaders to protect and prioritize children’s education. Too much is at stake for us to continue with the current business-as-usual approach. When children can transition from learning to read to reading to learn by age 10, it sets them up for a lifetime of learning and enables them to succeed throughout childhood and as adults. We must pick up the progress for change. Their futures depend on it. Our world depends on it.”

Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, said: “Learning how to read and write are essential building blocks for every child to succeed. This tool shows the depth of the global learning crisis—and what a critical situation the world faces if we don’t prioritize education. Without immediate political and financial action, the future of millions of children could be jeopardized.”

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said: “The world is facing an unprecedented education emergency that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. If we are to live up to our commitments to achieving the full range of SDGs and children’s right to education, then improving literacy levels is a must. Being able to read is a foundational skill that enables children to access their full curriculum—without being able to read, their life chances are stunted. This is particularly worse for children in some of the poorest and conflict-affected countries, for whom getting back to school and catching up on learning is more crucial than ever. We urgently need governments and donors to prioritize tackling the learning crisis in order to secure better futures for the world’s children.”

As part of this week’s Global Action Week for Education, they are urging governments to commit at least US$5 billion for the Global Partnership for Education replenishment conference and endorse the two global targets on girls’ education set out by the UK.

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