The illiterate in the Fourth World (disadvantaged minorities and destitute people in any country), find themselves in positions of inferiority in a number of everyday situations and are also confronted with the complexity of life in industrially developed countries. Being unable to read street signs, the names of underground stations, bus and tram destinations, it is very difficult to get around in a city. An illiterate is unable to compare labels in a store; cannot calculate the price of foodstuffs; cannot fill in application forms for jobs, for assistance, or for schooling for her children.
The predicament of illiterates in industrialized countries is undoubtedly more difficult than it is in the Third World, as an adult in an economically and technologically advanced country will suffer more from the isolation resultant from illiteracy than will someone similarly handicapped in a country where the adult illiteracy rate is high. In addition, many Third World countries have a rich community life and oral tradition which serve as a source of support for the illiterate person.
UNESCO reports that 750 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – lack basic reading and writing skills, according to the latest available data for 2016. 102 million of the illiterate population were between 15 - 24 years old. The global adult literacy rate was 86% in 2016, while the youth literacy rate was 91%. According to UIS data, the majority of countries missed the Education for All (EFA) goal of reducing adult illiteracy rates by 50% between 2000 and 2015. At the global level, the adult and youth literacy rates are estimated to have grown by only 4% each over this period.
While it may be embarrassing for First World countries to admit a common problem with Third World nations, there must be political determination to solve the problem of Fourth World illiteracy. More effective identification of illiterates and their environment is necessary as well as a fuller understanding of the causes of different forms of illiteracy. Given the capital and technology available in all industrialized nations, it is a disgrace that millions of their inhabitants live in fear, shame and isolation caused by a problem for which there is a solution.