Adult Literacy Program

How an Adult Literacy Program Can Change Lives

In 1975, the literacy rate in South Asia was 36.25 percent.1 Adult literacy is defined as “people ages 15 and above who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement about their everyday life.”2 By the end of 2019, the literacy rate in South Asia had gone up to 72.95 percent.1 This kind of steady incline is attributable, in part, to various organizations’ adult literacy programs that tackle one of the most significant barriers to overcoming extreme poverty: the ability to read and write.

Despite this incredible progress, South Asia still has more than half a billion illiterate adults, most of whom are women.3 This leaves a gaping hole in the region’s economy, and it impacts local communities’ ability to flourish and make a way forward for the next generation. If a child’s parents are illiterate, that child is less likely to learn how to read or write. Not only can the child not learn from his or her parents, but an illiterate parent is limited in economic opportunities, which impairs their ability to earn enough money for school supplies and fees.

Women in South Asia have particularly suffered from a gender gap in education. According to UNESCO Bangkok,

“In West Asia and South Asia, adult women are up to six times less likely than men to have basic reading and writing skills.”4

The historical and cultural barriers that women face in becoming educated are at the root of this disparity, though it is shrinking. In 2020, men in South Asia had a nearly 82 percent literacy rate while women had only a 66 percent literacy rate.5 When girls don’t go to school and learn to better their lives through education, training and employment, their futures are drastically different than men in the same region.

For instance, one study concluded,

“A negative relationship seems to exist between levels of literacy and total fertility rates in South Asian females, which if further improved may contribute to longer-term improvements in maternal and child health.”6

The study is referring to the impact of child marriage, human trafficking and spousal abuse, all of which a female is more susceptible to if she is not in school and supported in her efforts to have a future.

At a local level, these same women who cannot read and write are responsible for their children’s safety, their family’s nutrition and shopping at the market. Without the skills to read labels and signs or understand basic math, they do not have what they need to protect their family some of the most basic ways. This is one of the reasons adult education and literacy programs need to continue alongside childhood education. Raising literacy rates across all age groups and for both genders is an important key to uplifting entire communities and countries, economically and socially.

Mandeepa has lived the reality of generational illiteracy. Her father died when she was just 3 years old, leaving her mother with six children to take care of. They moved in with Mandeepa’s grandparents but the family struggled just to survive. Mandeepa’s mother was illiterate and could only acquire day labor jobs, such as farming. With no extra money to provide anything beyond mere survival, Mandeepa and her siblings never went to school.7

Mandeepa grew up and married, then had children of her own. And though her husband was also illiterate, their daughter had the opportunity to attend school and learn. Still, it was disheartening for Mandeepa to not be able to help her daughter with her schoolwork. But there was also something else that she wished very much to be able to read on her own: her copy of God’s Word.

A GFA pastor told Mandeepa about Jesus Christ when she was 16 years old, and she accepted the gift of His salvation. Her pastor gave her God’s Word, which she treasured but was unable to read. Then through her church’s women’s fellowship, Mandeepa was able to attend a class teaching adult literacy. Within a year, she could read the Holy Scriptures for herself. She was 32 years old.

GFA World’s adult literacy program has a special emphasis on women’s literacy, as the gender gap is still so large in South Asia. Often, GFA missionaries are taught how to teach adult literacy, which also gives them the opportunity to share God’s Word with class participants.

Giving to GFA World’s adult literacy program is like handing a treasure chest to someone with nothing more than the shirt on their back. It has the ability to transform their life, their families and so many more. GFA World’s literacy program is about more than enabling a woman to read a soup can. It’s about giving her and her family a way forward where they can start to disrupt the cycle of poverty such as that Mandeepa’s family was trapped in. It’s about giving women and their families a future and a hope.

Learn more about poverty and education

1 “South Asia Literacy Rate 1975-2022.” Macrotrends. Accessed February 8, 2022.
2 “Metadata Glossary.” The World Bank. Accessed 14 February 2022.
3 Kiprop, Victor. “Low Literacy Rates in South Asia: Causes and Consequences.” World Atlas. December 10, 2019.
4 “Literacy rates rise from one generation to next, but challenges remain in region.” UNESCO Bangkok. September 8, 2017.
5 “Literacy rate, adult female (% of females ages 15 and above) – South Asia.” The World Bank. September 2021.
6 Sheikh, Saba M. and Loney, Tom. “Is Educating Girls the Best Investment for South Asia? Association Between Female Education and Fertility Choices in South Asia: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” NCBI. July 13, 2018.
7 “Literacy: Something to be Treasured”. GFA World. September 2017.