This is an important subject to me since I like to measure progress through education: what people know about the world, can they think critically, do they rely on facts and data, can they change opinion if new facts are provided, etc. However, I rarely think about it in terms of literacy, because my past and present background−the people I grew up with and worked with in the past as well as now− have never given me a chance to even think that, somewhere, there are people who cannot read or write.
But this thinking is wrong and I need to consider the bigger picture: not everything is perfect in the world and the first thing that needs fixing is illiteracy. A person who cannot read also cannot learn well, and thus cannot evolve.
So, let’s take a look at some relevant facts in the form of a map that displays global literacy rates.
Literacy in Europe looks great. If I believe this map, the only European country not in the “>97%” bracket is Portugal. Not sure why.
Australia, New Zealand, and all of North America look solid as well. Cuba looks great. So do Argentina, Chile, Guyana, French Guiana, and what look like some tiny Caribbean islands.
Asia in general looks mixed. Japan, South Korea, Singapore are all solid. I am actually thinking that North Korea (not shown) will also have a very high level of literacy. China still has some work to do. India needs to pick up the pace.
The main weaknesses, as shown in red on this map, are in Africa and in the war-torn Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
As you can see from this map, the former Soviet Union is close to 100% literate. This is no surprise to me personally as I have never met one person in Russia who was unable to read or write (assuming there were no health issues which could impact this ability). In fact, this might be visible in the next map below with finer data presentation granularity (and darker being better):
On the world scale, there is plenty of work left to do in the area of literacy. But the good thing is that it is all changing. The next map below shows that the younger generation is much more literate than their fathers and mothers were. This is great as it shows progress.
All we need to do now is to be patient and keep making the world more literate and more educated. Other good things will follow.