Hundreds of millions of children unable to read by age 10

Analysis paints stark picture of basic literacy skills in low-income countries

Nearly 400 million children aged 10 failed to develop basic literacy skills since 2015, analysis shows, putting the future education of many young people at serious risk.

The age of 10 is critical for education, because it is often the point when children progress to study content in more detail. In 2015, global powers agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals for a better future, with education and poverty the crucial cornerstones.

The analysis comes from the Lost Potential Tracker, a new method for experts to quantify children’s literacy skills.

It was devised by the Global Partnership for Education, the One Campaign movement and Save the Children.

Tom Hart, acting chief executive of One Campaign, said "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".

The tracker showed nearly six million children every month reach their 10th birthday without basic literacy skills. The global learning crisis is particularly acute because of the effects of Covid-19, with 1.6 billion young people out of school last year.

"Learning how to read and write are essential building blocks for every child to succeed," said Alice Albright, chief executive of the GPE, which appealed for $5 billion from the global community to support education efforts in low-income countries over the next five years.

“This tool shows the depth of the global learning crisis and what a critical situation the world faces if we don’t prioritise education. Without immediate political and financial action, the future of millions of children could be jeopardised."

While the Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on schools, even before the virus struck about 90 per cent of 10-year-olds in the world's poorest countries struggled to understand a basic story.

Inger Ashing, chief executive of Save the Children International, gave a warning that the world "is facing an unprecedented education emergency that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic".

“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,” she said.

“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 prioritise tackling the learning crisis in order to secure better futures for the world’s children.”