Brazil illiteracy on the wane, but 11 mi still cannot read or write

Brazil illiteracy on the wane, but 11 mi still cannot read or write

Brazil’s illiteracy rate went from 6.8 percent in 2018 to 6.6 percent in 2019, as per data from the Continuous PNAD (National Household Sample Survey), published today (Jul. 15). Despite the shrinkage, which encompasses some 200 thousand people, Brazil also has 11 million illiterate people. These are people aged 15 or more who are deemed incapable of reading and writing even a simple note, after the criteria of government statistics agency IBGE.

“It’s a rate that’s been lowering over time,” said Adriana Beringuy, analyst for the study being conducted in the second quarter of 2019.

Beringuy adds that illiteracy is more closely concentrated among the elderly, “as young people are usually more educated and likely to show a lower indicator.”

Despite the reduction, the data show that 18 percent of those aged 60 and older are illiterate. In 2018, this proportion stood at 18.6 percent, and, in 2016, 20.4 percent.

National plan

Slashing Brazil’s illiteracy rate is among the goals in the National Education Plan (PNE), which sets what must be done in order to improve education in the country until 2024 from pre-school to post-graduate studies. Under the law, in 2015, Brazil should have reached the 6.5 percent mark of illiterate people among the population aged 15 and older. By 2024, this rate should be down to zero.

“We see we have reached 2019 with a national rate near the 2015 target. It’s as if we were four years late in meeting this goal,” Beringuy pointed out.


In addition to age gaps, the survey unveils racial and regional inequalities in literacy across Brazil. Compared to whites, the illiteracy rate is 3.5 percent among those aged 15 or more. Regarding the black and brown population, under IBGE criteria, this percentage rises mounts to 8.9 percent. The difference widens among those aged 60 or more. Whereas 9.5 percent of whites do know how to read or write, among black and brown people this proportion is approximately three times as high: 27.1 percent.

Brazil’s South and the Southeast regions have the lowest illiteracy rates: 3.3 percent among 15-year-olds and older. The index stands at 4.9 percent in the Central-West and 7.6 percent in the North. The Northeast has the largest percentage—13.9.

Among those aged 60 years and more, rates are 9.5 percent in the South, 9.7 in the Southeast, 16.6 in the Central-West, 25.5 in the North, and 37.2 in the Northeast.

The Northeast was the only showing a slight increase in the illiteracy rate from 2018 to 2019. For the younger ones, the rate was kept virtually identical, changing a mere 0.03 percentage points. Among the older ones, the variation was 0.33 percentage points.

The majority of illiterate people aged 15 and above (56.2%), which corresponds to 6.2 million people, lives in the Northeast; and 21.7 percent, or 2.4 million, live in the Southeast, according to IBGE.

Years of study

The survey also shows that the average Brazilian studies for 9.4 years. The data are collected among people aged 25 or older. This figure has increased from 2018’s 9.3 years. In 2016, the average was 8.9.

Concerning skin color or race, according to IBGE, “the difference was considerable.” White people study an average of 10.4 years, whereas black and brown people study around 8.6 years, a difference of nearly two years between the two groups, which has held steady since 2016.

IBGE believes that, despite the significant strides, 51.2 percent of the Brazilian population aged 25 or more have failed to attain basic education levels.

The data from the Continuous PNAD Education refer to the second quarter of 2019.

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