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Estimates show that by 2030, 750 million people — or around 1 in 10 globally — may not have gained basic literacy skills by the age of 10

LONDON, 22 March 2021: New analysis released today by the ONE Campaign reveals that over half the world’s 10-year-olds could be unable to read and understand a sentence by the end of this year. 

Calculations based on official ‘learning poverty’ figures from the World Bank and UNESCO, as well as UN population data of all 10-year-olds, show that a staggering 70 million children could be affected. This situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed 17% to the total number of children falling victim to this global learning crisis in 2021 — leaving them with a life-long brake on their future potential.

ONE’s analysis shows that if current trends continue, the number of children lacking basic literacy when they turn 10 could rise to 750 million by 2030. This global learning crisis will hit Africa particularly hard, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 40% of children at risk. 

The anti-poverty organisation warns that without urgent action, it will have a devastating impact on the global economy for decades to come and the world risks losing out on the next cohort of doctors, scientists and leaders when they are needed most.

David McNair, Executive Director for Global Policy at The ONE Campaign, said: “Unless we take urgent action, the legacy of the pandemic could be millions more children denied the chance to understand words on a page. 

“This has real world implications. When children can’t read by the age of 10, this has a knock-on effect on their whole education, impacting on their ability to learn, earn, start businesses. This lost potential doesn’t just damage lives, it prevents whole economies from growing.

“To arrest this crisis, governments must urgently step up and invest in the future of children around the world and ensure that budgets are spent efficiently and in a targeted manner. This virus has taken enough from us already, it must not take the futures of millions of children as well.”

Ahead of next week’s G7 Sherpa meeting where education is expected to be on the agenda, ONE is 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.


Notes to editors

  • For more, read ONE’s latest education briefing paper titled Rewriting the future for 70 million children
  • G7 Sherpas will meet formally for the second time between 29th – 31st March. Girls’ education is expected to be a key theme of the UK’s presidency this year.
  • The age of 10 is a pivotal learning milestone in a child’s life, where they transition from the phase of learning to read to reading to learn. This is a make-or-break moment that allows a child to go from simply learning to read words on a page to understanding complex subjects and content. 
  • The pandemic increased the number of children lacking basic literacy at the age of 10 by nearly 17% compared to previous years, meaning 70 million children are at risk in 2021 and the 750 million children at risk between 2020-2030 of lacking basic literacy skills expected of a 10-year-old.
  • Girls are at risk of falling through the cracks, with 20 million of them never returning to school. 
  • ONE is calling for a five-point action plan to stem the tide of this hidden crisis and deliver a future in which every 10-year-old child has the fundamental literacy skills needed to enable the rest of their education:
    • G7 leaders should endorse the girls’ education global targets set out by the UK – who will host the G7 Summit in 2021 – to ensure 40 million more girls accessing school and 20 million more girls able to read by age 10 by 2025.(1) 
    • Donor governments should fully fund the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). An investment of US$5bn could enable 175 million girls and boys to learn between 2021-2025.(2) 
    • G20 Finance Ministers should enable countries to support developing countries finances, with a stimulus package and an extension of repayment deadlines, so countries can invest in their schools over servicing debt. (3)
    • Low and middle income countries should commit to ring-fencing their education budgets and using any stimulus packages created to urgently address the learning crisis while responding to the pandemic. 
    • Funding alone is not enough; it must be spent in a targeted and efficient manner based on evidence of what works and addressing context-specific realities. Governments should commit to ongoing evidence gathering, quality spending and should take steps to better measure the global learning crisis. We cannot fix what we can’t measure. 
  1. For more information please see here:  https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-11-26/debates/A2442925-0DA2-4262-B564-1C6FEE24881A/OfficialDevelopmentAssistance 
  2. For more information please see here: https://www.globalpartnership.org/sites/default/files/docs/financing-campaign-2025/2021-01-GPE-Case-for-investment-rev.pdf 
  3. G20 Finance Ministers should offer a comprehensive stimulus package by extending its Debt Service Suspension Initiative till the end of 2021 and backing the creation of USD 650bn Special Drawing Rights with a mechanism to transfer them to low and middle-income countries freeing up much needed funds to invest in education.