Map of EuropeLiteracy is defined as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Illiteracy, the opposite of literacy, in the strict sense, is defined as the inability to read and write simple sentences in any language. There is also a third category, filtering out the grey area between the stark black and white of literacy and illiteracy: functional illiteracy. Functional illiteracy is defined as reading and writing skills in any language that are insufficient to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.

For 1 in 5 Europeans, the world is hard to read.

This literacy crisis affects every country in Europe, despite the fact that living in the digital age requires higher levels of literacy than ever before. Far too often, decision- and policy-makers take their own literacy abilities for granted, and assume that everyone else has the same abilities to read, write, process information, and critically evaluate said information. Literacy is an issue in all countries in Europe, not a problem of developing nations. Literacy is not a problem solely attributed migrants: the majority of those with literacy problems in the European Union were born and raised in the country that they live in. For an in-depth article on functional illiteracy in France, please see our previous article from 2010. The European Union recommends addressing literacy at all ages: Young Children

  • Support the family: implement family literacy programmes.
  • Provide free access to Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC).
  • Screen early for emerging literacy problems as a result of hearing, eyesight, and speech impairments.

Basic Education Years

  • Increase the number of specialist reading teachers.
  • Assess literacy achievement early, and assist if necessary.
  • Inspire the motivation to read by ensuring that curricula and teaching methods focus on reading.


  • Adapt teaching approaches so that reading and writing are essential skills across the curriculum.
  • Provide diverse reading materials to motivate all readers.
  • Promote cooperation between schools and businesses, so students see the necessity of literacy skills for employment.


  • Monitor adult literacy levels and practices to identify groups in need of attention.
  • Communicate widely about the need for adult literacy.
  • Provide a variety of learning opportunities that relate to life skills.

[Source: EU High Level Group of Experts on Literacy, Excecutive Summary]