About 758 million adults around the world have never learned to read or write, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has said.
Speaking at a ceremony here marking the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day on Thursday, Unesco’s regional representative Katherine Muller-Marin said most illiterate adults — as much as two-thirds — are women, making them more vulnerable to unemployment and low wages.
Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova has described literacy as a tool that can promote "the independence of a society", Xinhua news agency quoted Muller-Marin as saying.
The regional representative also praised Cuba for having launched one of the world’s most successful literacy campaigns in the 1960s.
"Cuba is a privileged country, whose education surpasses international levels," said Muller-Marin.
In 1961, the island’s fledgling socialist government began a massive and innovative literacy drive that was able to eradicate illiteracy in a matter of months, making it the first Latin American nation to do so.
Cuban educators in 2001 developed a method, called "Yes, I Can", to promote literacy with minimum resources. The programme has helped more than 10 million people in 30 countries learn the crucial skills of reading and writing.
Cuban Education Minister Ena Elsa Velazquez said literacy was a "source of cultural development" and "banner of the irrevocable struggle to defend the poor on the Earth".
The day has been celebrated each year since 1967 to raise awareness and promote the importance of education worldwide.