The UNESCO defines an illiterate person as someone who is unable to read and write a simple text about his or her everyday life in a language of his or her choice. A person who can only read this simple text but cannot write it is considered to be semi-literate. Today there are more people worldwide who can read and write than ever before. The increase of literacy partially began in the 1970s and has continued progressively even though lacking funds for schools and campaigns periodically result in setbacks. By analysing the geographical distribution, it is apparent that the homogenous group of highly developed states in North America, Europe and the nations of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand have literacy rates of more than 95 percent. The former socialist states also belong to this group of almost complete literacy. Most Latin American states have attained almost complete literacy or are very close to achieving this goal. Cuba is one example of a socialist government that carried out nationwide literacy campaigns as early as the 1960s and thus overcame a major developmental hurdle. In some countries women are disadvantaged (Peru, Bolivia, Panama), overall however the statistics paint a positive picture. This structural disadvantage of women is also common in other parts of the world. The "Literacy" gauge represented here highlights the underprivileged position of women in various areas of family and society this is considered a major cause of underdevelopment today. It comes as no surprise then, that the majority of these countries are marked on the map as being underdeveloped. Literacy rates in Africa are only well advanced in the south of the continent and in the Republic of Congo, Libya and Tunisia. Across the Asian continent there are also large discrepancies. Countries that have made concerted and successful efforts in literacy education (China, Vietnam, India) and successor states of the Soviet Union (with a long tradition of compulsory education: Central Asia, Caucasus region) stand in contrast to countries where illiteracy is the norm, particularly in fringe groups (rural populations, women, children and youth who are unable to attend school). Often these are countries where child labour is widespread and where there is no legal minimum employment age, resulting in no or insufficient opportunities for children to attend school. In addition to targeted campaigns for adults, this is the key to further literacy. Literacy is a major factor in developmental work as it is considered a key to solving further problems and it enables active participation in economic and political life, whether on the level of taking part in educational programmes about HIV/AIDS or training courses in rural areas for the improvement of farming methods, or for marketing self-produced goods or organising a cooperative.
Functional Illiteracy Functional illiterates are people who lack elementary reading, writing and mathematical skills either because they have forgotten these skills or because they received only a basic or no education. A large number of functional illiterates can be found in marginalised groups of the western developed nations; in Germany for example it is estimated that about 5% of the entire population are functionally illiterate. M. Felsch, E. Astor; Ü: J. Moar, M. Dahl