22.10.2013 - UNESCO Office in Santiago

More than 12 million adults are enrolled in literacy and adult education programmes

Photo: Flickr/Colectivo Fénix

Never too late to complete school in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Millions of adults in the region are returning to school to complete their studies and improve their prospects.

The region is home to 36 million adults who are unable to read or write. Country-level data show that on average about one-quarter of the adult population has not completed primary school and one-half has not completed secondary school.

However, according to new data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), about 10 million adults are enrolled in primary and secondary education programmes and more than 2 million participate in literacy programmes.

These findings are part of the first regional survey of statistics on adult education, focused on primary- and secondary-level education programmes, as well as literacy programmes. The data reveal the extent to which such programmes help countries meet international development goals that target education.

In 20 countries with data in the region, 2.5 million adults participated in some form of literacy programmes in 2010, accounting for 10% of the illiterate population in these countries. Considering that women make up 63% of participants, this region should see a reduction in the remaining gender gap among illiterate adults.  

However, special attention should be paid to the effectiveness of those programmes. In many cases, less than one-half of participants complete the course.

Secondary education programmes are the most demanded in the region. In 2010, 7.6 million adults were enrolled in this level of adult education, accounting for 12% of total secondary enrolment. The level of interest suggests that these programmes are an important resource for adults who wish to make up for lost opportunities.

Data also show a surprising number of young adults enrolling in this type of secondary education programme. In 11 of 15 countries with data, more than 60% of students are under the age of 25. The data suggest that youth who struggle to complete secondary education are attracted to adult education programmes as a more flexible alternative.

Periodically, the UIS conducts regional surveys to inform policy debates and monitor priorities of UNESCO Member States. The Regional Survey for Latin America and the Caribbean on Statistics of Adult Education was conducted in consultation with regional and international partners, including the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL). It is designed to support the implementation of Education for All priorities to increase adult literacy and support lifelong learning, essential for broader economic, social and human development.

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